Eastern Alamance began the defense of its 2019 NCHSAA 3A state championship Monday night with a home game against Havelock in the first round of the state playoffs. Although the Eagles lost twice during the regular season to Person and Rockingham, which relegated them to the No. 5 seeding in the East Regional bracket of the state playoffs, the 12-2 Mid-State Conference champion Eagles hosted No. 12 seed Havelock, who came to Mebane with a 9-3 overall record.
Kenna Raye Dark threw a six-inning no-hitter with 16 strikeouts, and the Eagles smashed the ball all over their home field to the tune of 16 hits on their way to a 12-0 triumph, which moves EAHS into the second round. The Eagles will make the short trek south to Swepsonville on Wednesday evening, as they’ll face off against inter-county rival Southern Alamance with a berth in the state quarterfinals on the line.
Havelock came west along I-40 to Mebane under foreboding skies, as a late morning and early afternoon thunderstorm created some doubt as to whether the game would actually happen. But the weather eventually relented, creating clear, mild conditions for this huge single-elimination showdown.
Dark set the tone for the evening right out of the gate, striking out the side in the top of the first inning. Dark’s overpowering fastball, combined with a deceptive changeup, would keep the Rams hitters off-balance and swinging at air all evening. Havelock’s third batter Elana Krupey reached on a passed ball following Dark’s third straight strikeout, but Eagles catcher Stoney Dixon threw her out on an attempted steal at second base to get out of the inning. Krupey injured her left knee on the play, and was forced to leave the game.
The Eagles settled the issue early offensively, scoring three runs in the bottom of the first. Dark led off with a long home run over the fence in the left field power alley, and Maddie Lawson followed with a shot down the left field line for a double. A sacrifice fly into the right field gap by Molly Lawson moved her older sister to third, and Haleigh Palmer brought Lawson home with another sacrifice fly to right field.
Makiya Graves followed Palmer with an opposite-field single down the right field line, and Kyra Jones advanced Graves to second on a fielder’s choice grounder in which Graves beat the second baseman’s throw. Reagan Hartley subsequently smacked a single up the middle into center field, which brought Graves around for the third EAHS run.
After Dark struck out the side in the top of the second, the Eagles got two runners on in their half of the second thanks to a pair of Havelock errors. But EAHS was unable to add to its advantage. In the third, Dark hit Havelock’s leadoff batter and starting pitcher Hailee Wooliever with a low pitch, and Wooliever went on to steal second. But Dark rallied to fan the next three Havelock batters. Through three innings, each of Havelock’s nine outs came by way of strikeouts.
Jones poked a one out double down the right field line for Eastern in the bottom of the third, but Havelock ended the threat with a double play, as the Rams caught a hard line drive to center field off the bat of Hartley, and threw to second base for a clutch double play.
In the fourth, Dark once again struck out the side, giving her 12 strikeouts in a row. Dixon led off the bottom of the fourth with a clean single up the middle, and Dark nailed a one out single to left. That brought up Maddie Lawson, who crushed a first pitch fastball over the head of the left fielder for a double that one-hopped against the fence. Two runs scored, and the Eagles held a commanding 5-0 advantage. Molly Lawson drove in her sister with a single to center, giving EAHS a 6-0 lead.
Dark picked up from where she left off in the top of the fifth, once again striking out all three Havelock batters she faced for 15 strikeouts in 15 outs. Jones led off the bottom of the fifth for Eastern with a first pitch blast over the center fielder’s head for a triple. Hartley collected her second RBI hit of the night with a grounder to second base in which he hustled down the line and beat the throw to first. Leading 7-0, the Eagles scored another run on a base hit by Dixon, which brought around Hartley after she stole second base for an 8-0 Eastern lead.
After 15 consecutive strikeouts, it wasn’t until the sixth inning when a Havelock batter managed to avoid a strikeout. But the Eagles made clean plays on back-to-back infield grounders to keep Dark’s no-hitter intact. Dark ended the inning with her 16th strikeout of the night.
Molly Lawson led off the bottom of the sixth with an opposite-field shot that sailed over the Havelock right fielder’s head and turned into a triple. Palmer followed with a single in the hole between shortstop and third base that brought home Lawson for a 9-0 Eagles lead. Graves was hit by a pitch to move Palmer to second, and Kyra Jones ended it with an opposite-field smash over the left fielder’s head that turned into an inside-the-park homer, driving in three runs for a 12-0 Eagles victory.
Jones was a perfect 4-for-4 at the plate for the Eagles with three RBIs, while Hartley, Dark, Dixon, and Maddie Lawson all had two hits each. Lawson, Palmer, and Hartley each had two RBIs as the Eagles improved to 13-2 on the year.
Now the Eagles move on to face Southern Alamance, who EAHS defeated 9-6 on Southern’s home field in the second round of the state playoffs back in 2018 on their way to a berth in the third round. For the Eastern seniors who were a part of that impressive triumph as freshmen, along with the younger EAHS players who have now stepped into key roles, they will be looking to repeat history with another win over the Patriots, while keeping their hopes of yet another state championship alive.