Lady Hawks Overtake Sugar Jets for 3A MAC Crown - TribPapers

Lady Hawks Overtake Sugar Jets for 3A MAC Crown

Lady Hawk Kiersten Gosnell reaches to tag Enka star Gracie Merrell heading to third base. Photo by Pete Zamplas.

Candler – West Henderson (18-2; 11-1 Mtn 7) won its league for the first time in a decade. West swept second-place Franklin 12-7 and 4-3, and split with Pisgah. Coach Dana Braznell’s 3A Falcons won five of six games against 4A/3A MAC teams. They beat 3A A.C. Reynolds 7-1 on April 29. LaShea Morlu, Kayden Lyda, and Marley Orr lead West.

In 2A, Western Highlands champ Owen (18-2; 11-1), led by pitcher Sophie Neal (13-1), averaged 13.8-1.4 scores in its five latest wins.


North Buncombe (12-6), Enka (15-5), and McDowell (14-6) all finished 9-3 in MAC contests. NBHS is the league’s 3A champion ahead of Enka, by winning both of their games — first by 1-0 in eight innings on March 27. NBHS and 4A McDowell split, tying atop overall standings. Reynolds (10-11; 7-5) also won most league games. T.C. Roberson (5-12; 5-7) is the conference’s 4A runner-up.

‘Strikeout Hunter’

Freshman phenom Sadie Jo Hunter (8-2, 0.47 ERA, 138 K’s in 74 innings) is a hunter of pitching strikeouts and home runs. Her half-run earned run average is third-best in the state. Hunter paces MAC hitters at .456 and with six home runs — four last week including a grand slam.

Hunter homered in the first inning to open scoring at Enka on April 29. She struck out the Sugar Jets 13 times in seven full innings, out-dueling Enka lefty ace Karly Presnell.

Kiersten Gosnell (4-4, 1.67 ERA) is a standout Hawk pitcher-shortstop. “When you win against good competition, it feels even better,” senior Gosnell said. “I‘ve always loved playing against Enka for four years. It’s always an intense game, and fun!”

Softball has been the sweetest of all Enka sports successes for decade. Enka won three state titles – in 1996 when head coach Jen Kruk played, and 2015 and ’16 when she coached them to a 54-3 overall mark. Kruk will close her Enka tenure after 17 seasons, to fill an administrative post. The Sugar Jets were 23-1 last season – unbeaten until playoff round four.

That marked two MAC powerful seasons in a row. Tiffany Ferguson coached North Buncombe to the 3A state runner-up in 2022. Current UT Vols superstar pitcher Karlyn Pickens and catcher Juliana Mendoza led the way. Yet several other standouts are still on the team. David Griffin now coaches them.

“I don’t think anything can compare to that team,” Gosnell said. “We had all the confidence in the world.” She said beating Enka boosts current confidence.

Wacky Plays

That win at Enka had wacky base running and fielding plays, mostly favoring NBHS. Enka overran second base multiple times, and got tagged out by Gosnell. “It’s an awesome feeling to tag some of them out,” Gosnell said. “It gets me really hyped up! Those small outs turn into really big deals during the game.” NBHS RF Averie Ramsey made a backhanded stab of a liner.

Star Sugar Jet Gracie Merrell, however, had Lady Luck on her side in the fourth inning as she tied the game 1-1 with aggressive base running. Merrell walked. She stole second base.

Shortstop Gosnell recalled tagging Merrell three times on that play — first as Merrell slid into second base, then after she rose and was off the bag. “I thought she was for sure out” at second, Gosnell said. “But the umpire said nothing. Then she stopped” off-base momentarily, inviting the second tag.

Merrell sprinted towards third base with Gosnell chasing her. A photo shows Gosnell tagging Merrell out before third base, but umpires did not call the runner out. Gosnell continued to reach ahead, attempting to tag Merrell again. As Merrell slid into third, Gosnell slipped and fell down.

The ball squirted away. It rolled to the dugout fence, where third baseman Lily Metcalf got to it but after Merrell neared home plate. “The ball got loose after (an accidental leg) kick back into my elbow, and then my stomach,” Gosnell explained. “That took the breath out of me. I have a nice knot and mark on my elbow” for a few days.

Merrell grinned while scoring the sole Sugar Jet run. It spoiled Hunter’s shutout, and revved up Sugar Jet players and home fans. Juniors Merrell and Presnell and sophomore Averi Coggins can lead Enka again in 2025.

Hawkish Tenacity

The plot further twisted. North Buncombe matched the run in its next at-bat, retaking the lead in the fifth inning. Senior first baseman Peyton Whitson epitomized Hawk grit with aggressive running. She beat out infield hit, sliding head-first. She stole second, then raced home on Gosnell’s bunt single and euphorically screamed.

Hunter shut the door on Enka’s final three at-bats.

Closing the regular season, NBHS blasted Asheville 22-0 then shut out Erwin 5-0 on Hunter’s grand slam and Whitson’s homer. Enka clobbered AHS 16-1.