Black Hawks Play for State Softball Title - TribPapers
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Black Hawks Play for State Softball Title

North Buncombe Black Hawks celebrate winning the West Region series opener. They won game two on the road, to advance to 3A state finals. Left to right are team manager Lily Banks, Molly Clark, Kayla McKinney, Gracelynn Fisher, Shayna Higgins (9), Juliana Mendoza (in shorts), Peyton Whitson (13), Karlyn Pickens (22) and catcher Cheyenne Cable. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Weaverville – North Buncombe thirsts after its, first ever, fast-pitch softball state title this week, winning the West Region. Meanwhile, T.C. Roberson went out with gutsy bravado in the 4A regional baseball finals.

Pitching dominated in both series. Winning the West, NBHS swept fourth seed Central Davidson (17-7) in two Karlyn Pickens shutouts last week. First, was a 2-0 triumph at home on May 24. The clincher was 3-0 in Lexington last Thursday. Several Black Hawks were hitting heroes. 

Reaching state finals is “awesome,” Tennessee-bound Pickens said. “This is such a team moment to share with all of my girls. We’re celebrating something we’ve dreamed about.”

West Region 3A third seed North Buncombe (25-1) tangles with the “Dark Side” — East top seed Eastern Alamance (26-2) and husky UNC signee pitcher Kenna Raye Dark (0.46 ERa, 263K, 19W in 165 IP). Makiya Graves bats .500, Dark .484 and Kyra Helton .482. Expect low-scoring Pickens-Dark duels. The Eagles beat Cape Fear 3-1 Saturday after splitting 1-0 games.

The final series is at UNC-Greensboro June 3-4 starting at 7:30 p.m. Then Friday night at 2 p.m. Saturday if a third game is needed at 8 p.m. Pickens grinned, saying she often pitched on back-to-back days in travel ball. ‘I’m ready!”

Kenzie Jones watches her looping hit fall in. The senior knocked in both Hawk runs in the regional opener. Photo by Pete Zamplas.
Kenzie Jones watches her looping hit fall in. The senior knocked in both Hawk runs in the regional opener. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

‘Ram Tough’

Meanwhile, tenth-seeded TCR (22-8) lost to unbeaten top seed Providence (32-0) by 10-0 away, then 3-0 at home Friday. Providence, ranked third nationally by MaxPreps, ran bases well to make their four hits count.

The Panthers’ 1-2 senior pitching, punch each one-hit. A Ram lineup used to 3A pitching last season, but now in the larger 4A after statewide realignment. Game one winner Eli Jerzembeck is projected to go in the MLB draft’s first round on July 17. He consistently throws 97 mph. The winning pitcher, this Friday was the snickering Michael Forret, a 6-4 East Carolina signee. He fanned 14 Rams. Forret throws 93 mph and mixes pitches brilliantly, TCR head coach Eric   noted. Freshman Caden Davidson’s sharp single spoiled Forret’s no-hitter during the final inning. Forret reached the 105-pitch state limit after striking out the next batter. Collin McDougall got the final out.

Above all, this 2022 farewell game defines Ram gutsiness. Rising TCR senior star Nick Parham kept pitching after an injury. He showed he is the squad’s “heart and soul,” Coach Filipek said. Call Parham “Captain Courageous.”

Starter Reno Jeter allowed only one hit in five and a third shutout innings. Reaching his pitch count, Parham relieved him. Parham said he deals with shoulder tendinitis.

Batter McDougall’s shot, in the sixth inning, struck Parham just above his right knee. The impact was so loud, Filipek figured “his knee shattered.” Parham collapsed, laying motionless for minutes.

Miraculously, Parham eventually grabbed back the ball, paced around, shook off the injury, showing fine range of motion in practice throws. He finished that inning and the upcoming one.

Master motivator Filipek praised the effort in the post-game pep talk. “Nick took a shot. H kept the ball, kept going.” Filipek told the Rams “you gave everything you have. You have added to this program.” Ram players hugged each other.

Ball Hawks                          

North Buncombe’s regional softball finale Thursday was scoreless for all seven regulation innings. Hawk head coach Tiffani Ferguson said “once we woke up” from a three-hour bus ride, “we were determined to play.”

The Black Hawks scored their three runs in the top of the eighth, the first extra inning. Peyton Whitson doubled in two runs. The sophomore lefty had two strikes on her, fouled off a pitch off ace Salem Ward, then drove the ball into left field. Cheyenne Cable knocked in Whitson with a “big shot to left field,” Coach Ferguson noted.

The rally began freshman Ali Jo Rice’s two-out infield hit. Leadoff and leading hitter Pickens was intentionally walked. Ferguson talked strategy in a timeout. “We had Peyton fake a bunt, to distract the defense while we did a double steal.” It worked. “Peyton struggled” against Ward, Ferguson said. “I told Peyton not to poke the ball, to (instead) swing” through. She did, doubling in both runners.

Whitson was also the hitting hero in round three, again breaking a scoreless tie. She rocked Rockingham with a three-run blast.

Kenzie Jones had the big hit May 24. She knocked in both runs of that regional opener, with a slicing single to right field in the fourth inning. The senior later singled to left field for the Hawks’ other hit. Center fielder Jones said she learned to time Ward’s crisp fastball, making good contact. She slowed down her swing for greater control.

’Warding’ Off Foe

Defenses shined. In game two catcher Cable caught a pop-up bunt attempt, and dove to snag another one. First baseman Whitson also made a diving catch. Left fielder Addie Norton caught Ward’s foul ball, ending the game.

The Spartans managed merely two hits off of Pickens in game two. Spartans senior star Ward (16-6, 0.87 ERA) is a .548 hitter. The UNC-Greensboro signee also hit into a crucial out in the bottom of the sixth after a Spartan reached third base on a single, an error and wild pitch. With no outs, this was their big chance to break the scoreless tie. But Ward merely hit a bouncer to pitcher Pickens, who threw her out after making sure the lead runner stayed put. The last two outs were on measly foul bunt pop ups.

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