Hot Bullets ready to show their mettle|Jamesville headed to state semifinals

Published 12:14 am Thursday, June 4, 2009

Staff Writer

The Jamesville Bullets (15-4) have found themselves in familiar territory – headed to the NCHSAA Class-1A State Softball Championship.
The championship, held at the Walnut Creek Softball Complex in Raleigh, starts on Friday at 5 p.m.
Jamesville will open play against North Johnston (21-4), the No. 1 seed out of the Carolina Conference, on the complex’s Field 6.
The Bullets will then face either Swain County (21-6) or East Surry (27-2), who are pitted against each other at 5 p.m. on Field 7, at 7:30 p.m.
The Bullets’ last trip to the championship was in 2006, when they opened with a 2-0 win over Pender, before losing consecutive games to East Surry and Pender. The Jamesville softball program has been to the state championship four times in all, according to head coach Richie Ainge.
Jamesville’s only remaining member from the 2006 team is starting shortstop Elizabeth Ainge. Ainge is also the team’s lone senior and offensive spark plug out of the leadoff spot, Coach Ainge said.
The Bullets started the season off slow, losing two out of their first three games, but have heated up at the right time, winning 11 in a row going into the state championship.
After the slow start, Coach Ainge decided to shake up his defense and pitching. He moved Ainge, who served as the team’s ace for three seasons, from starting pitcher to shortstop, and brought hard-throwing freshman Caroline Tetterton into the circle.
He then realigned his defense around Ainge. Of Jamesville’s starting nine in the field, only two hold the same position they started at for the first game of the season.
“We just were not comfortable with the way we were playing,” Coach Ainge said. “I knew we had to find a way to get better.”
Ainge welcomed the move from the mound to shortstop, according to her coach.
“She was fine with it. Elizabeth is an unselfish player — she wants what’s best for the team,” Coach Ainge said.
He said the move was made to shore up a shaky defense, not because of Ainge’s work on the mound.
“It wasn’t because she wasn’t doing a fine job in the circle,” he said. “We just needed her athletic ability at shortstop. She just makes our defense so much better.”
Coach Ainge’s risky moves paid off for the team, as Tetterton (14-2) has started every game since taking over the rubber.
The Bullets didn’t really take off until after the Northside/PCS Easter Tournament in early April. Jamesville went 1-2 in tournament, losing to Atlantic Conference champion Southside and Edenton.
Since then, the Bullets haven’t lost a game. They rounded out the regular season as Tideland Conference champions and earned the No. 1 seed out of the conference for the third year in a row.
Coach Ainge said his teams have always been strong on defense and in the circle, but the reason for this year’s run through the playoffs has been some timely hitting.
“It seems like one game the bottom of the order is coming through with big time hits, then one game, the top of our order,” he said. “We put the ball in play. We haven’t had a lot of strikeouts.”
The Bullets are buoyed on offense by their top four hitters – Ainge, Corey Ainge, Paige Lilley and Haley Bowen.
“I think the top of our order, those girls have to play well – and they have been – for us to be successful,” Coach Ainge said.
He said he has little advice for his girls, except, “Just keep doing the same thing that we’ve been doing.”
What the Bullets have been doing is dominating their playoff competition in every phase of the game. They picked up wins of 2-1 over Perquimans, 1-0 over Williamston, 4-0 over Camden and 5-1 over Manteo in the first four rounds, and have outscored their opposition 12-2 in the playoffs.
Of course, Coach Ainge knows the competition will be stiffer in the state championship. He said that each team the Bullets join in the championship is a traditional powerhouse.
“I think all four teams have been there multiple times,” he said.
North Johnston is making its fourth appearance in the state semifinals since 2000, and has won the last six Carolina Conference titles. The Panthers are led by sophomore first baseman Lindsay Tippett (.530 batting average) and starting pitcher Tayler Creech (17-3, 0.83 ERA).
Last year’s state champion, East Surry, and state runner-up, Swain County, will be facing each other in the West Regional game.
Swain will be making its fourth consecutive visit to Walnut Creek. The Devils are led by sophomore pitcher Shelby Parker (18-4, 0.42 ERA) and offensive standout Kayla Myers ( .506 batting average). East Surry is paced by ace Hayley Shelton (17-0, 0.19 ERA) and Courtney Simmons (.457, 4 HR, 32 RBI)
Still, Coach Ainge likes his team’s chances.
“We’re playing well – playing the best softball of our season, by far,” he said.