Weaverville – North Buncombe, featuring robo-whiffing superstar pitcher Karlyn Pickens, hosts the West Region 3-A softball series this week after winning four rounds, culminating in a 13-inning marathon triumph last Friday.
The Mountain Athletic Conference champion Lady Hawks (23-1), coached by Tiffani Ferguson, reached regional finals a season ago as well. They’re eager to reach the state title series for the first time in the program’s history.
NBHS beat Lexington Central Davidson (17-5) 2-0 at home in game one Tuesday. Kenzie Jones singled in both runs in the fourth inning. Pickens struck out 19 in a one-hit shutout. Game three if needed is in Weaverville — slated for Saturday, May 28.
One can figure on low-scoring battles with both teams winning low-scoring contests. Second seed NBHS vanquished Tuscola 4-0 and North Lincoln 4-1 in week one. Last week, the Lady Black Hawks edged Rockingham County 3-1 then Crest 1-0.
Central Davidson KO’ed top seed East Lincoln 2-1 on Friday. The Spartans scored 18 runs in their playoff opener. Since their games had a “Spartan existence” in scoring, CDHS managed merely two, one and two runs. Foes had four runs, one, zero, and one run.
“I love a good pitcher’s duel,” senior Pickens said. “I’ve been training for these moments since I was young, to show what I can do on the field.” Fessing up to any pressures, she said with a chuckle, the game is “in the bag.”
Third-seeded North Buncombe squeezed by second seed Crest (24-3) by 1-0, in 13 innings on Friday. Pickens had her most majestic game yet, also scoring the winning run.
Pickens hurled a one-hit shutout. The reigning Gatorade State Player of the Year struck out a career-best 29 batters; hailed as the most in a NCHSAA softball game in 13 years. She walked merely two Lady Chargers.
“Special K” is Karlyn’s nickname. She likes Kellogg’s Special K cereal with fruit. She is a Tennessee Vols commit.
Her endurance and velocity held up over 164 pitches; far more than her usual 100 pitches. Although doubling her inning duties, pushing through 13 of them, she quickly put away batters to average 12.6 pitches per inning which is still fewer than her usual 14.
“I was going off of pure adrenalin” by game’s end, Pickens said. “I didn’t feel tired at all.” She said she felt only “little aches and pains” for the first two days after Friday’s game. “By hydrating and eating good, I’ll be fine for the next game.”
Pickens throws a devastating upward-spinning “rise” ball at four levels, straighter fastball, drop ball, slower changeup and a curve. She said that on Friday, she featured her rise ball as usual but “mixed in my changeup. They didn’t expect the slower changeup.”
Pickens throws as fast as mid-70s in mph – equivalent to a blazing 100 baseball fastball.
“That was the fastest I’ve ever seen her throw in a game,” said Juliana Mendoza, her longtime catcher until recently tearing a knee ACL. “She was into it. She wanted it. Karlyn definitely brought it (her A-game).”
Brushing Aside Crest
The marathon win over Crest is “one of the most exciting and fun games we played as a team,” Pickens said. “Everyone did their part. Playing and cheering.”
NBHS nearly scored in the seventh. But a runner on first slowed rounding second, and was thrown out at home. She hesitated thinking, as teammates did, that senior Addison Norton’s long shot cleared the fence. It was instead ruled a double.
Pickens sparked the winning rally in the top of the 13th, off of an equally hot starter in a scoreless duel. She led off with a bunt single along the first base line. “I’d do whatever it took for the team, to get on base,” she said. “I was confident my teammates would get me around” to score.
Pickens promptly stole second base. She went to third on senior Cheyenne Cable’s one-out infield hit.
Freshman DH Molly Clark singled to right-center field, to drive in Pickens. Pickens pointed to Clark, in acknowledgement. She later proudly told the Tribune how “Molly, a freshman, hit the walk-off to get us that one run.”
Pickens mowed down the Chargers one more time. The long-limbed 6-1 right-hander rapidly pumped her right fist after fanning a Charger for the final out. Hawks converged, leaped and joyously screamed.
Young Hawks Emerge
Sophomore Peyton Whitson and Norton each had three of the 12 Hawk hits Friday. Whitson is among several young Lady Hawks starring lately. Whitson smashed a three-run home run to right field in the fifth inning on May 17. That broke a scoreless tie and produced all of the home team’s scoring, to beat Rockingham 3-1 in round three.
Freshman Ali Joe Rice drove in the most (two) runs in round two, a 4-1 victory over North Lincoln. Whitson had an RBI double. Rice joined the starting infield after Cable switched from shortstop to catcher in place of injured Mendoza.
Cable somehow detects and snatches Pickens’ supersonic fastballs. She let only one third strike get by her Friday, and threw out that batter at first. A game earlier, Cable dove to catch a foul ball behind home plate.
Mendoza tried an at-bat in the game Friday. But the junior’s knee buckled, as she ran out a grounder. She wrapped ice around it, stayed in the dugout, and “continued cheering.”
She remains one of their vocal leaders. Fiery Mendoza said she could “never leave them. They need my support, as much as I need theirs” referring to her injury’s rehabilitation.
Pickens said “to keep going” in playoffs is a “great achievement.” Mendoza noted the Lady Hawks are “so close to getting that state title that we’ve worked so hard for.” Pickens said, “hopefully, we come out on top.”