Northside to face North Duplin in eastern regional final

Published 3:59 pm Tuesday, May 26, 2015

DAVID CUCCHIARA | DAILY NEWS GEARING UP: Junior Mackensi Swain celebrates with junior Mariah Stanley after the first run crossed home plate in last Friday’s fourth round game against Whiteville.

GEARING UP: Junior Mackensi Swain celebrates with junior Mariah Stanley after the first run crossed home plate in last Friday’s fourth round game against Whiteville.

PINETOWN — The Northside softball team sits two wins away from the 1-A state championship, as No. 11-seeded North Duplin has its sights set on a late-round upset in the best-of-three series, which kicks off Wednesday at 7 p.m.

The Panthers return to the 1-A eastern regional championship for the first time since coach Keith Boyd’s 2001 team defeated Camden County and North Moore in a double-elimination-style tournament. The Panthers went on to win Game 1, 4-0, against Cherryville in the state championship, before losing its grasp on the title in extra innings in Game 2, a 2-1 loss.

En route to the best season in program history, Northside enters tomorrow’s matchup with a second-straight Coastal Plains Conference championship and a perfect 24-0 record.

With a 16-3-1 overall record, North Duplin is the highest seed remaining in the 1-A bracket, but has arguably been one of the most impressive teams, thus far. In four tournament games against Chatham Central, No. 6-seeded Roxboro Community, No. 3-seeded Granville Central and No. 2-seeded Perquimans, the Rebels are living up to their name, coming off three-straight upsets, outscoring playoff opponents 24-1.

North Duplin finished second in a top-heavy, but highly competitive Carolina Conference, featuring Princeton (17-5), the conference champion, and Spring Creek (16-3-1). In the tournament, the Panthers knocked off both of North Duplin’s conference counterparts — Spring Creek in the second round and Princeton in the third.

The Rebels bring an efficient balance of pitching and power into the eastern regional, relying on youth to carry much of the team’s offensive load. At the plate, sophomores Haley Brogden (.429) and Rylee Pate (.482) have been some of coach Ricky Edwards’ top producers, slugging a combined 41 RBIs and 49 hits, while freshman Alyssa Santos have proved to be one of the best young bats in 1-A with a team-high 28 RBIs and two home runs.

The numbers at the dish are notable, but it’s in the pitcher’s circle where the Rebels thrive, having allowed just one run through their last seven games. Pate is that X-factor, sporting a 0.76 ERA and 155 strikeouts in just 83 innings. She’s averaging fewer than two strikeouts a frame, which makes her one of, if not the most dangerous pitcher in the class. And the only reason her numbers aren’t more inflated is the productive late-inning relief available to the Rebels. Brogden has allowed just three earned runs in 26 innings, while Santos has failed to let a runner cross home in 14 innings.

“It’s always going to be tough when you face good pitching,” said head coach Riley Youmans before Tuesday’s practice. “We’ve seen a couple different great pitchers in the last few games and there’s always a difference, so we make adjustments accordingly depending on the information I get from other coaches who have played them.”

Northside’s playoff run has been successful, but it’s certainly proven to be a wakeup call for a team accustomed to regular season blowouts.

Against three tough opponents in Spring Creek, Princeton and Whiteville, the Panthers have kept it close, needing a 10th inning triple from Alex Adams and a walk-off single from Kendall Alligood to secure a spot in the regional final in Round 4 against the Wolfpack. Against Princeton in Round 4, Northside recorded just one hit, but it was enough in a 1-0 victory.

“As far as I’m concerned, as long as we get the ‘W,’ that’s the main thing,” Youmans said. “Did we play our best all the time? Absolutely not. I thought we could have played a little bit better against Whiteville, but we also had some great hits against them that went right to the glove.”

Throughout the tournament, Youmans has mixed and matched pitchers Rachel and Kelsey Lang to fit certain situations, even reentering the original starter after the reliever has already come into the game. In 29 postseason innings, the duo has allowed five runs, though only two were earned.

Up against the best arm Northside has faced to date, the Panthers offense will need to find ways to manufacture runs early, trusting in Rachel and Kelsey Lang to keep the opposing lineup at bay.

“We’re going to keep doing what we do with pitching. It’s been successful so far. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,” Youmans said.

Game 2 will take place at North Duplin on Friday at 7 p.m. and, if necessary, Game 3 will be in Pinetown on Saturday at the same time.

“I feel like we can play with anybody, anyone,” Youmans said. “We’re here, they’re here and it’s going to be a great game. I feel like the team that makes the least mistakes is going to come out on top and hopefully that will be us.”