Washington, Northside softball to square off in exhibition

Published 1:53 pm Thursday, February 19, 2015

DAVID CUCCHIARA | DAILY NEWS FAST PITCH: Washington senior and Pitt County Community College commit Hailey Hutchins will face Northside’s best hitters next Saturday.

FAST PITCH: Washington senior and Pitt County Community College commit Hailey Hutchins will face Northside’s best hitters next Saturday.

Softball fans in Beaufort County have been denied a competitive matchup between two of the area’s best high school softball teams for nearly a decade.

Both the Washington and Northside programs share a cherished history of winning softball, a chronicle that has produced a series of postseason appearances and collegiate athletes through the years. Most of these players were also brought up through the same system — one that includes local recreation leagues, a myriad of travel softball teams, Washington and East Beaufort All-Star squads and, of course, high school ball.

Through that system, student-athletes like Washington’s Hailey Hutchins and Northside’s Kelsey Lang, both starting pitchers for their respective high school teams, have crossed paths. In fact, most of the upperclassmen for the Pam Pack and Panthers have shared a diamond at some point during their softball upbringing, but never at the high school level, a travesty considering the influx of once-in-a-decade talent across both rosters.

On Saturday, Feb. 28, that narrative will change, as the annual Bobby Andrews Scholarship Softball Tournament is getting a makeover.

After last season’s tournament was abandoned due to a decrease in travel softball interest, the Andrews Scholarship Committee decided to alter and consolidate the traditional multi-team tournament into a preseason exhibition double-header between the Pam Pack and Panthers at Washington High School.

“You have a big senior crop of players who have played together for a number of years from both teams who are coming together in a matchup that people have wanted to see for a long time,” said committee member Greg Dority. “This is going to be an opportunity for the softball community to see the two top teams play together. It’ll probably be the only opportunity to see them out there at the same time on the diamond.”

The ultimate goal of the softball showcase is to raise money for the Andrews Scholarship Fund, a longstanding tradition that dates back over 15 years. The tournament was organized in conjunction with PotashCorp Aurora, the lead sponsor, and Beaufort County Community College, which is helping generate the scholarships through an endowment.

Previous tournaments, Dority said, have raised over $5,000 and this year’s goal, despite having fewer teams involved, is no different.

“It is a triumph of the public-private partnership,” he said. “We do have Potash reaching out to us, Beaufort County Community College, high school teams and people in the softball community. Both Washington and Northside are strong teams that will probably go deep in the state playoffs. Because of scheduling conflicts and weather in the past, they have not played in a number of years.”

In the year 2000, the tradition began when Bobby Andrews, a local sports icon who spent time as an official and a fast pitch softball coach in the 1970s, ‘80s and ‘90s, was surprised with a scholarship tournament in his honor, organized by a large collection of his former players and held at the Susiegray McConnell Sports Complex. From there, the showcase took off, attracted even more teams and became a meaningful constant in the softball culture of Beaufort County.

But this year’s exhibition is a new format that features the area’s top softball teams in a double-header, a layout the committee hopes catches on and continues into next year.

Between games, the skill competitions will range from a bucket toss to a bunting contest with various prizes being awarded to the winners.

Like previous years, T-shirts will be available for purchase and admission to the exhibition is $5. First pitch for Game 1 is at 11 a.m., while Game 2 is projected to begin around 1 p.m.

The scholarship will be presented prior to Washington’s spring sports banquet and will be awarded to girls who have played in both the rec league (Washington or East Beaufort) and high school, while maintaining at least a 3.0 GPA.

“This is a tremendous opportunity to see top quality softball out there,” Dority said. “It’s just going to be a great day.”