Eastern Alamance’s softball team, seeded No. 2 in the East Region, began its quest for a NCHSAA 3A state championship Tuesday night with a home game in Mebane against No. 31 seed White Oak of the Coastal Conference.
White Oak made the nearly three-hour western trek to Mebane from Jacksonville and ran into a brick wall in the form of Eastern High freshman pitcher Kenna Raye Dark, who no hit the Vikings for five innings and had a big night at the plate as the Eagles advanced with a 10-1 triumph.
After a scoreless first inning, the Eagles took control of the game in the bottom of the second inning, scoring three runs. Dark helped herself with a two-run single during EAHS’s second inning uprising. Dark finished the game 2-for-4 at the plate with three RBIs.
Eastern scored three more times in the bottom of the third inning to build a commanding 6-0 advantage. Sophomore Madelyn Lawson led off the inning by crushing a deep home run over the center field wall, directly in front of the American flag pole. Lawson’s homer made it 4-0 in favor of the Eagles.
Freshman Makiya Graves followed up Lawson with an opposite-field single to right field, and reached second when a Haleigh Palmer grounder went through the legs of the White Oak shortstop. Cameryn Bass moved Graves and Palmer up with a fielder’s choice, and the two runners scored when Kyra Jones hit a grounder that resulted in an overthrow to the White Oak first baseman.
As the Eagles maintained their 6-0 lead into the top of the sixth, Dark continued her masterful pitching, keeping the visitors from Onslow County from getting a hit to that point.
In the top of the sixth, however, White Oak finally got a hit off Dark and strung together a rally to score a run. But that is all they’d muster off the EA standout ninth grader. Dark struck out 10 Vikings and walked only three batters in her first-ever state playoff appearance.
Dark now has a 16-1 record in 20 appearances this spring for the Eagles, with a sparkling 0.58 earned run average. She has struck out 217 batters in 119.2 innings - pretty astounding numbers for a young woman who was in middle school this time a year ago.
Four more runs in the bottom of the sixth put a final series of nails in White Oak’s coffin. After Dark made the score 7-0 with her second single, sisters Morgan and Madelyn Lawson continued the rally with a pair of doubles. Madelyn Lawson finished the night 3-for-4 with two runs scored and two RBIs, while Morgan Lawson had one hit, one run, and one RBI. Sophomores Reagan Hartley and Kearsyn Henderson added runs batted in for the Eagles.
Eastern now looks ahead to a second round matchup Friday evening, back at home in Mebane, against No. 15 seed Wilson Fike. The Demons come to Mebane with an overall record of 12-7 and the No. 2 seed in the Big East 3A Conference.
Fike went 8-2 in conference play and advances to the second round on a three-game winning streak. The Demons crushed C.B. Aycock 16-7 Tuesday night in Wilson to advance to the matchup with the Eagles.
Fike is a very potent offensive squad, having produced five games of 15 or more runs offensively, and eight games of 10 or more runs. The Demons come to Mebane particularly hot, having scored 46 runs in their last three outings.
Fike is led offensively by senior Leann Pittman, who has a .475 batting average, five home runs and 32 RBIs, along with junior Lydia Hunt (.328 batting average, 2 home runs, 24 RBIs) and sophomore Lindsey Curlings (.536 batting average, 1 home run, 23 RBIs). Pittman is also Fike’s top pitcher, with an 8-3 record, a 3.16 earned run average, and 62 strikeouts in 71 innings pitched.
With its offensive capabilities, Fike could very well be the stiffest challenge yet for Kenna Raye Dark.
But on the same token, Fike hasn’t seen anyone with Dark’s skill yet this season, either.
It makes for a dramatic showdown on Friday, with a spot in the third round coming to the winner.