Northside softball celebrates strong season

Published 5:33 pm Friday, May 27, 2016

PINETOWN — Northside’s season wrapped up in a familiar way last week. For the second season in a row, North Duplin knocked the Lady Panthers out of the postseason. They fell to their rival Lady Rebels in the regional championship in 2015.

Northside was playing at home for the first time since opening the playoffs with a 15-1 win over Tarboro. The homecoming was spoiled quickly when North Duplin scored seven runs in the first two innings.

The homestanding Lady Panthers found themselves in an 8-0 hole after conceding another run in the top of the fourth. The deficit seemed insurmountable, but senior leaders Mackensi Swain and Kendall Alligood didn’t think so.

Swain lifted two balls over the fence and Alligood hit a homer of her own as the Lady Panthers began to mount a late comeback. They scored four runs in the bottom of the sixth as North Duplin’s junior pitcher Rylee Pate seemed a bit shaken.

“Every time (Swain and Alligood) came in off the gield, they said, ‘Look, girls, it’s not over,’” coach Riley Youmans said. “Most teams would have folded up and these girls didn’t.”

Swain and Alligood reminded the rest of their teammates that they’ve scored eight times in an inning on more than one occasion this season. More so than just telling them what they can do, the two seniors showed a true mark of leadership by stepping up and leading by example.

“You can’t replace those girls. They’ve played so much ball and have the confidence and heart,” Youmans said. “It’s just hard to replace. Mackensi and Kendall both went out with a bang.”

The key was the mental toughness that led to so much success throughout the season. No matter what the scoreboard said, the Lady Panthers never gave up.

“That’s a team that never gave up on itself and never quit,” Youmans said. “We were down 8-0 in the fifth inning and we bounced back. We started putting runs on the board. They never gave up. … They know that, whenever they’re down, they can come back.”

Their comeback may have fallen short, but the Lady Panthers set a precedent in sportsmanship. The Lady Rebels left something to be desired in that category.

“It makes me very proud. It’s what we stress,” Youmans said. “We’re representing not just ourselves, but Northside High School. That’s our top priority: maintain our cool and have good sportsmanship no matter what we’re facing. You have to have self control and the girls showed that, even though I wasn’t so happy with some of the North Duplin coaches.”

Youmans and the Lady Panthers take great pride in what they accomplished this season. They finished the year as one of the last eight teams remaining at the 1-A level.

FUTURE STAR: Savannah Slade fields a ball at shortstop. Northside will miss its graduating seniors — Kendall Alligood, Mackensi Swain, Mariah Stanley and Quortasia Clark — next season. However, talented young players like Slade will help the Lady Panthers pick up where they left off last season.

The four seniors got to go out on a high note, but there’s also plenty of promise for the future. Pitcher Rachel Lang and Tiffany Oliver will return as seniors next year. Beyond that, there’s a ton of sophomore talent. Savannah Slade, while young, excelled at shortstop this season. On the offensive end, Whitney Cromwell’s .391 batting average was fourth on the team among regular starters.

“We’ve got a deep bench and some of those girls really stood out this year,” Youmans said. “We filled some positions that needed to be filled and they did a good job. We’ve got a lot of work ahead us after losing some big bats … but that’s what it’s all about. We’re moving forward and getting better with each year.”

Indeed, this season was another exciting one for Northside softball. The graduating seniors experienced moments that they’ll hold near and dear for a long time to come.

And it’s not the end of the road. There’s a tradition of excellence with the Lady Panthers that they have all intentions of carrying on come next season.