Eastern Alamance’s softball team continued its winning ways Thursday evening with a 4-0 shutout victory over league rival Rockingham County at home in Mebane. The victory improved Eastern’s overall record to 13-1, and its Mid-State Conference mark to 11-0. The Eagles are on the brink of winning the Mid-State Conference regular season title, needing only one more victory over their last three league games to claim the crown.
Eastern High freshman pitching standout Kenna Raye Dark came through with another shutout, turning away the Cougars at all points to lead the Eagles one step closer to an undefeated run through the Mid-State Conference regular season slate. Dark struck out 17 Cougars. Only four of Rockingham’s 21 outs were on batted balls. And the Eagles came up with some excellent defense to back Dark up.
The Eagles settled the issue offensively against Rockingham in the bottom of the first inning, scoring a pair of runs for a 2-0 lead. Catcher Hailey Batista drove in a run as EAHS took early control.
After striking out the first two Rockingham batters in the top of the second, Dark got some help in the field - a diving catch by left fielder Madison Hartley, which ended the frame.
Dark got even more defensive help in the top of the third inning, as Eagles sophomore first baseman Kearsyn Henderson lunged to her right and made a full-length diving catch of a hot shot between first and second. Henderson’s excellent play was sandwiched around two more Dark strikeouts.
In the bottom of the third, Eastern added to its lead with a hustle play courtesy of tenth grader Reagan Hartley. Hartley smashed a liner the other way down the third base line. Rockingham’s left fielder made an attempt to stab the slicing liner, but the ball got by her. Hartley raced all the way around the bases for an inside-the-park home run, which gave Eastern a 3-0 advantage.
After Dark struck out the side in both the fourth and fifth innings, she led off the bottom of the fifth for the Eagles with a walk. Fellow freshman Mackenzie Taylor came in to pinch run for Dark, and promptly stole second. A sacrifice fly by senior Morgan Lawson moved Taylor to third, and a double into the left field power alley by sophomore Madelyn Lawson brought Taylor across for a 4-0 Eastern lead.
Rockingham put together its best challenge to Dark and the Eagles in the top of the sixth. Jenna Washburn drilled a Dark pitch to the opposite field, banging the fence in right center field on her way to a leadoff double. Washburn’s double broke up Dark’s no-hitter, and proved to be the only hit of the game Rockingham could muster off the EAHS hurler.
Madison Courts drew a walk for the Cougars following Washburn’s hit, and suddenly Rockingham had the tying run at the plate. But Dark settled down, striking out Amari Broughton, coaxing an unassisted grounder to first base from Taylor Smith, and striking out Hannah French to end the threat. Dark went on to strike out the side in the top of the seventh to finish off the win - her seventh shutout thus far of the season.
The Eagles, currently the No. 84 team nationally in the maxpreps.com United States prep softball rankings and the No. 1 team, regardless of classification, in the state of North Carolina. will claim the Mid-State Conference regular season title with a victory over Western Alamance Monday in Elon. That game is a rematch of a contest that was supposed to be played earlier this week, but was postponed due to wet field conditions. In their first meeting, the Eagles smashed the Warriors, 10-0, by the Mercy Rule in Mebane back on March 14.
In addition to remaining Mid-State Conference matchups with the likes of Western Alamance, Northeast Guilford, and McMichael, the Eagles play a brutal non-conference slate in late April leading up to the state playoffs.
Starting with Saturday’s home game against Northwest Guilford, the Eagles are playing a series of four non-conference contests against the Vikings, who got off to a 12-1 start this season, North Davidson, who got off to a perfect 16-0 start this spring, and Orange, the 2017 NCHSAA 3A state softball champs who got off to a 6-1 start in conference play. EAHS will also face Hickory Ridge, who got off to a 10-2 start in their conference, at the Spartan Spring Break Clash at Sun Valley High School near Charlotte to close out April.
These challenging late-season games - all but one of which are on the road - are meant to prepare the Eagles for the grind of the single-elimination NCHSAA state playoffs. Last fall, the youthful Eagles advanced to the third round. But with such a promising start, and with tremendous momentum built through Eastern’s recent 10-game winning streak, the Eagles are looking to make an even deeper playoff run this spring.