Thank you for being one of our most loyal readers. Please consider supporting community journalism by subscribing.
Although the Southern Nash High varsity softball team has now won back-to-back 3-A Big East Conference championships, a figure that may be lost on more than one league observer is simply this.
Not only are the Ladybirds 19-1 over the last two seasons in regular-season conference play — including an unbeaten run through the Big East in 2019 — but Southern Nash, counting postseason play, has recorded 22 consecutive victories against conference opposition.
That doesn’t happen without a reliable arm game in and game out in the pitching circle.
Junior right-hander Carrigan Ewers was that and more for Southern Nash in 2019. Her 134 strikeouts led Big East pitchers, and with nine complete games in 15 starts, Ewers was named the league’s Pitcher of the Year of the second straight season.
“I’m very honored for the second year in a row,” Ewers said in a telephone interview Friday. “It is a big privilege.”
But it was how Ewers responded to some early adversity in Big East play with her curveball that impressed Southern Nash head coach Scott Collie.
“The year that she had as a sophomore, she had a 39-inning scoreless streak,” Collie said. “It was unbelievable. Sometimes when you have a great year, you can put pressure on yourself to repeat that. Early in the conference season, she was struggling with her curveball. Against Fike and Hunt, she gave up a few more hits than she is used to.”
It didn’t result in losses — the Ladybirds’ offense responded with an 11-7 win over Fike and a 14-6 conquest of Hunt — but Ewers was reached for 20 hits in the two contests combined. The curve was being elevated, and the power bats of Hunt and Fike saw opportunity as the ball started inside, but would catch entirely too much of the plate before hitting the glove.
“I think it was harder,” Ewers said. “I feel like, as Coach Collie would say, we had a big target on our back.
However, Ewers recovered, and in true pitcher’s duel fashion, recorded a pair of key 2-1 victories to keep the unbeaten Big East season alive. One was at Fike in the rematch, while the other was at much-improved Frankinton.
The key, Collie said, was to get the Ewers curve starting in the middle and breaking towards the corner of the plate. That required attention to Ewers’ mechanics.
“I was having trouble driving my legs and my arm was caught on my hip,” Ewers said. “I really knew that my team had my back. I just went out there.”
Southern Nash finished with a 17-5 record and reached the second round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A postseason, but Ewers is already hungry for an elusive trip to the third round in her senior season.
“She took some big steps in terms of maturity,” Collie said of Ewers. “Fike was better this year, Hunt was better and Franklinton was absolutely better. She’s been our starter for three years, and there’s some familiarity there. I was really proud of her because that’s something we talked about as a team during the fall last year. We came out of nowhere, whereas this year, we’re not going to sneak up on anyone. I’m proud of the entire team for the way they handed that.”
Although it didn’t factor into the award consideration for Pitcher of the Year, Ewers was plenty capable of soothing any self-inflicted woes at the plate. She hit .394 and drove in a team-high 29 runs. Ewers’ six homers also led the Ladybirds.
At Hunt, the one constant for the Lady Warriors has been that of junior shortstop Bri Tucker. For the third straight year, Tucker’s speed wreaked havoc against opposing defenses at the top of the order, earning her Big East Co-Player of the Year acclaim alongside Franklinton’s Shelby Sykora.
Tucker has, at the least, shared the honor in each of her three seasons in a Hunt uniform.
Dubbed the “quiet assassin” by Hunt head coach Miguel Hall, Tucker, with slap ability and power to the gaps, hit .431 and led the Lady Warriors with four home runs. She had eight doubles and drove in 20 runs for a Hunt team that finished 10-10 and tied for third in the Big East.
While Hunt as a team could be wildly inconsistent, Tucker served as an equalizer for the Lady Warriors. Balls hit in her direction were rarely misplayed, and if her speed boarded the basepaths, the running game was sure to follow. However, Hunt became much easier to defend if opponents could keep Tucker off the bags.
“She’s a unique player man,” Hall marveled. “She’s one of a kind. I’m just so proud of her. She’s her own player. I wish she would take on more of a leadership role, but she’s a quiet assassin — she does what she needs to do.”
Not surprisingly, Tucker reached base 56 percent of the time last season with a .560 on-base percentage.
“I’m telling you, it’s just awesome to see,” Hall said. “I can’t go nowhere without people saying her name. Everyone respects her. The coaches nominated her. To come in third place...and still having that respect for her.”
Southern Nash placed five additional players on the All-Big East team in addition to Ewers, including sophomore Taylor Bailey, sophomore Anna Strickland, sophomore Alissa Bailey, sophomore Kierstin Cooper and junior Elisabeth Collie. Bailey’s .524 average led Southern Nash offensively, while Strickland hit a .500 clip for a Ladybirds offense that hit .374 as a unit.
Second-place Fike, which finished 12-8 and reached the second round of the playoffs, was represented by sophomore Lindsey Curlings, junior Lydia Hunt, freshman Jada Lamm and senior Leann Pittman.
Curlings paced Fike with the bat, hitting .536 in that department to go along with 23 RBIs. Pittman, in addition to her stalwart pitching duties, added a .475 clip that included a team-high 32 RBIs, six doubles and five homers.
In addition to Tucker, Hunt placed the trio of senior Allyson Matthews, sophomore Faith Matthews and freshman Madison Mercer.
Allyson Matthews led Hunt everyday players with a .435 average, including 17 RBIs and five doubles.
Franklinton, which tied for third alongside the Lady Warriors, placed Charli Bacon, Abigail Fagan, Morgan Strickland and Skyora.
Fifth-place Northern Nash got pitcher Jenna McKenney and Elana Griffin on the all-conference rolle, while Rocky Mount garnered one selection in Caroline Joyner.
Honorable-mention picks went to Southern Nash sophomore Ricki Bartley, Fike junior Hailey Hammonds, Hunt junior Desi Norris, Sarah Fagan of Franklinton, Northern Nash’s Alyssa Day and Ashanti Pittman of Rocky Mount.