Eastern High spring sports open schedules with tough non-conference matchups

As the days inch closer to the official start of spring, Eastern Alamance High’s spring sports seasons got going this past week. The Eagles’ women’s soccer and softball teams - both coming off East Regional championships in 2022 - began their new seasons with highly-challenging non-conference battles against some of the state’s best. In addition, the EAHS men’s lacrosse team, looking to have a rebound this spring, opened its 2023 season with a victory. 

As the days inch closer to the official start of spring, Eastern Alamance High’s spring sports seasons got going this past week. The Eagles’ women’s soccer and softball teams - both coming off East Regional championships in 2022 - began their new seasons with highly-challenging non-conference battles against some of the state’s best. In addition, the EAHS men’s lacrosse team, looking to have a rebound this spring, opened its 2023 season with a victory. 

EAHS women's soccer ties Chapel Hill to start season

Eastern Alamance’s women’s soccer team is hopeful to make a run back to the NCHSAA 3A State Championship game this spring after making an impressive run to the finals a year ago. Eastern returns much of its top talent, including seniors Molly Widderich, Mackenzie Webber, Audrey Hupman, and Karsyn Johnson, as well as sophomore attacker Abby Brinker, among many others. The Eagles are the preseason favorite to repeat as Central Conference champions, and they opened their season on February 28 at home against Chapel Hill. 

A year ago, Chapel Hill handed Eastern a 1-0 loss on the way to an 18-2-2 season and a run to the fourth round of the NCHSAA 4A state playoffs before suffering a heartbreaking 2-1 overtime setback to eventual state champion Cardinal Gibbons. It was a fitting reunion for two teams such as Eastern and Chapel Hill with championship aspirations heading into the 2023 season to have a rematch in Mebane. 

Chapel Hill got off to an early lead, as the Tigers scored a goal in the first half to take a 1-0 halftime advantage. But in the second half, the Eagles got the equalizer, as Molly Widderich scored to tie the game. That’s how the score stayed, as the two teams played to a 1-1 tie. Johnson had a solid game in goal for the Eagles, allowing just one goal with five saves. The Eagles managed more shots on goal than the Tigers, with a total of eight shots, but only Widderich’s goal, which came on a penalty kick, found the back of the net. 

Eagles softball falls in season opener

Eastern Alamance’s softball team began the defense of its 2022 NCHSAA 3A state championship this past week on the road. On Tuesday, February 28, the Eagles boarded a bus and traveled to Winston-Salem to take on Oak Grove, who finished third in the Mid-Piedmont Conference last spring, and advanced to the second round of the NCHSAA 3A state playoffs. The Grizzlies feature standout pitcher Mary Peyton Hodge, one of the top sophomore hurlers in the Triad region.

Although the Eagles have numerous talented returnees - notably seniors Molly Lawson and Aryanna Parker, juniors Destiny Carreiro, Taylor Byrd and Rebecca Alston, and sophomore Delani Straughan - EAHS lost its biggest piece from the two-time state championship teams in star pitcher Kenna Raye Dark, who is current playing at the University of North Carolina. 

Eastern is considerably younger this spring, with four freshmen - Olivia Foster, Rachel Byrd, Kayden Manning, and McKenzie Blevins - all in the starting lineup for the Eagles’ season opener. But having so many youngsters getting meaningful playing time against quality opponents will only serve to help Danny Way’s squad as they look to once again reach the top of North Carolina’s 3A ranks in the future. 

EAHS got off to a sluggish start, committing four errors and getting only five hits while getting shut out by Hodge in a 4-0 setback. The Grizzlies scored once in the second and third innings, and then scored twice more in the bottom of the fifth for their margin of victory. 

Eastern looked like they may crack the scoreboard in the top of the first, as Alston singled into center field, and Foster drew a walk. But Hodge bore down and collected two straight strikeouts to end the frame. Taylor Byrd led off the top of the fourth with a hit up the middle into center field for the Eagles, and she got all the way to third before EAHS was retired. 

The Eagles got two runners in scoring position in the fifth, as Straughan reached on an error, and Lawson followed with a single to center field. Straughan advanced to third base and Lawson second base on an error by the Oak Grove center fielder. But that’s as far as they would get, as Hodge got back-to-back strikeouts to end the inning. 

Eastern put one more rally together in the top of the sixth, as Parker and Blevins collected back-to-back two out singles. Parker reached third base and Blevins second base on a passed ball. But Hodge got a huge strikeout to end the threat.  

Oak Grove scored what turned out to be the winning run in the bottom of the second, as Carly White singled on an infield hit near second base to drive in Shae Grainger. Allie Johnston led off the bottom of the third inning with a solo home run over the center field fence against EAHS starting pitcher Delaney Straughan for a 2-0 Grizzlies advantage. 

Johnston also drove in Oak Grove’s third run in the bottom of the fifth, as she singled on a line drive up the middle into center field to score Chloe Smith, who had led off the inning with a single and stole both second and third bases. Four batters later, Chloe Watkins brought home Oak Grove’s fourth and final run on a single to left field. 

While Hodge earned the victory with 15 strikeouts and five hits allowed with no runs and only one walk, Straughan took the hard-luck loss for the Eagles, as she allowed nine hits and three earned runs with one strikeout and three walks. 

On Saturday, Eastern was scheduled to play its second game, but the severe weather that came through the area earlier in the week forced the game’s postponement. Eastern had three games scheduled this week - a home-and-home two-game series with West Johnston, and a home game against South Brunswick on Friday. 

For EAHS, challenging the likes of West Johnston and South Brunswick constitutes the program’s continued efforts to challenge itself by facing the very best the state of North Carolina has to offer as opposition on the softball diamond. West Johnston went 16-5 last season and gave Eastern one of its biggest tests on its way to last year’s NCHSAA 3A state title. The Wildcats played EAHS to a scoreless tie through seven innings last season in the second round of the state playoffs before the Eagles won 1-0 in a dramatic eighth inning walk-off. South Brunswick went 16-8 last season and advanced to the second round of the state playoffs. 

EAHS lacrosse wins big in opener

Eastern Alamance’s lacrosse team is looking for a return to the postseason this spring, and they showed they mean business in their season opener on Monday, February 27, as the Eagles dominated Roxboro Community, 15-2. 

Seniors Sam Royal, Tyler Counts, and Collin Deese led the way for the high-octane Eastern Alamance offense, as all three recorded hat tricks with three goals each. Junior Dalton Helton scored twice in the victory, while seniors Brett Hupman and Branson Tate, as well as sophomores Jacob Mueller and Nathan Robinson.  

Deese added two assists on his way to Player of the Game honors, while Royal, senior Corbin Mace, and freshman Elijah Mayle each added assists as well. Junior Jett Giovani, playing in goal for the Eagles, allowed just two goals over 48 minutes of action. As a team, Roxboro Community managed just four shots on goal against the Eastern Alamance defense. With the Eagles on the attack offensively for most of the match, the ball stayed relatively close to Eastern’s goal for much of the evening. 

This week, the Eagles have three games scheduled on the lacrosse pitch. After hosting Southern Alamance in Mebane Monday night and Durham Jordan in a second straight home match Tuesday evening, the Eagles will travel to Elon Thursday night for their Central Conference opener against rival Western Alamance.