Northside softball remains humble, undefeated
Published 10:14 pm Monday, April 13, 2015
PINETOWN — Opposing fans often question why the Northside softball team is so dominant. Suiting up for a small school in a rural county of less than 50,000, hailing from the inferior eastern half of North Carolina, the Panthers seem to be playing in a league of their own.
During Monday night’s game against Bertie, Northside leading 12-0 after three innings, one visiting supporter confoundedly asked, “Are ya’ll a private school?” Another queried, “What are you guys, 4-A … 3-A?”
Whichever way you break it down — geographically, numerically or historically — one could construct a list of 10-plus reasons as to why Northside should be a middle-of-the-road, mediocre adversary. Yet, having won 31 of its last 33 games dating back to last season, the Panthers have slugged their way to the top, demanding to be placed in the same category as North Carolina’s elite, western softball programs.
“We’ve been talking about playing like we’ve never won a game,” said head coach Riley Youmans. “For the first three or four innings, let’s go 100 percent, so you know where you are. I don’t want them to get lackadaisical or think that this is what they’ll see in the states. It’s not. You have a lot of good ball teams out west. What we see here and what we’re going to see down the road are two different things.”
While relying on the sister duo of Rachel (sophomore) and Kelsey Lang (senior) on the mound, the palpable key to the Panthers’ success, as cliché as it may seem, is staying humble, hitting for contact instead of aiming for the fences. Mainly, the philosophy is centered around a unitary game plan, not a customized strategy, one that varies from opponent to opponent.
But the immaterial reason for all the winning softball is chemistry, deeply rooted camaraderie that’s taken years to grow. Whether it’s the rhythm catcher Kendall Alligood’s has developed with Mackensi Swain on throws downs to third base, Alligood’s familiarity with the Lang sisters pitching repertoires or simply knowing each other’s fielding tendencies, the starting nine has a certain harmony that’s gone unmatched in 2015, thus far.
“They’ve been playing together since they were six years old,” Youmans said. “They have stuck together. I happened to be on a few good baseball teams that were the same way. We didn’t have any heroes, we just had solid players. And that’s what we have here. They work together well, know each other and talk to one another.”
Ultimately, circumstance may be the final piece to the Panthers’ success. Yes, the majority of the players have come up through the archetypal Beaufort County softball system, but that hardly guarantees instant abilities of the collegiate caliber. Simply put, sometimes, it just takes natural ability.
In the first inning of Monday night’s game, Northside’s Mariah Stanley and Alligood blasted a pair of homers — Stanley over the left field wall, Alligood to the right.
“The home runs they hit tonight. I told them, ‘Did you feel it?’
It’s just like swinging a golf club. If you want to hit the ball hard and straight, a nice pretty swing is all you need. That’s what I’m focusing on with them right now. Hopefully that opened their eyes tonight to see what contact hitting is all about.”
Against Bertie’s pair of hurlers, neither of whom were pushovers, the host recorded 12 hits, all hard hit. Not one was cheap.
After last season’s disappointing and rather unexpected third round playoff exit, the fate of Northside earning its second-consecutive No. 1 overall seed comes down to Thursday’s matchup in Beaufort, where the Panthers will face East Carteret (11-1, 4-1 Coastal Plains), a team that’s only loss came on March 31 to Northside.
Last season’s postseason loss, however, could arguably be attributed to a lack of quality competition down the stretch. But this time around, under the direction of a first-year head coach, it’s a problem that’s being addressed.
“It’s in the back of your mind all the time that we’re not seeing the competition we need to be seeing to get where we would like to get,” Youmans said. “So in practice we have pitching machines throwing 65. They’re seeing some speed, some different looks, but yeah it is in the back of your mind when you’re scoring so many runs and you’re ending games in five innings (via the mercy rule). The biggest problem is (when you’re winning) you don’t need to manufacture runs. I know when we face better competition that needs to change and we’re going to work on it.”
Before heading to Beaufort on Thursday, Northside will travel to Williamston for an out-of-conference matchup against Riverisde (3-4).