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Haley Bunting didn’t sign any autographs after the conclusion of Saturday’s North Carolina Christian School Association 2-A softball championship tournament against Lexington Union Grove.
But the final signature that the senior affixed to her high school career overflowed with flair and stylistic charm.
Needing only a run with the bases loaded to clinch the Lady Chargers’ sixth straight championship under the NCCSA banner, Bunting, already the author of a dominant one-hit shutout and a solo home run, gave Wilson Christian much more.
She connected on a 1-1 offering from Lady Patriots hurler Savannah Clark and deposited it over the fence for a grand slam, giving Bunting her second homer of the day and a closing 13-0 victory that did nothing to lessen Wilson Christian’s iron grip on NCCSA softball.
“Honestly, I didn’t think it was going to go out,” Bunting said of her game-ending slam. I thought it was going to get caught at centerfield. I was really excited that it went out to end my career with a grand slam. I just went in with a good mindset that this is my last game. I’m going to give it all I’ve got for my younger classmen, for my family and for my other teammates and for my coaches. I gave it my all, and I just wanted to put everything else I had on the field out there.”
It was the fourth victory over Union Grove this season for Wilson Christian, which ended its season with a 13-6 record. The Lady Chargers have also conquered their foes to the west for the championship in each of the last two seasons. With WCA hosting a four-team, double-elimination tournament over the weekend, the Lady Chargers didn’t conceded a run in three contests. They took down Kinston Bethel Christian 18-0 on Friday before handing Union Grove a 16-0, three-inning defeat in the winner’s bracket final Saturday before returning for a championship game contested in hot, sweltering conditions. Union Grove had its season ended with a 9-9 record.
“They certainly love softball here,” third-year Wilson Christian head coach Carrie Reynell said. “We’ve got kids that want to work hard and put the time in and it’s easy when you’ve got kids that want to work hard and it doesn’t hurt that their pretty skilled, too.”
After getting just two hits off eighth grader Jennifer Edmondson in the morning contest, Union Grove experienced even less success against Bunting in the championship round. Keeping her off-speed on the corner for called strikes and sending riseballs above the letters for swinging punchouts, Bunting, bound for NCAA Division II Chowan University, was barely touched.
She struck out 13 Union Grove batters and only yielded a fourth-inning single to Jordan Taylor.
“Last time we played them, they struggled with the outside pitch,” Bunting said. “So I tried to hit the outside corner every time with my curveball.”
Offensively, Wilson Christian produced 12 hits against Union Grove in the finale, including a five-run fifth that was highlighted by back-to-back homers, including freshman Faith Matthews’ grand slam.
In the first, the Lady Chargers quickly grabbed a 2-0 lead. Matthews and Haley Bunting each singled, which led to cousin Casey Bunting’s sacrifice fly to left that scored Matthews. Junior McKenna Griffin, one of three All-Region picks alongside Matthews and Casey Bunting, reached on an error in right field that allowed Haley Bunting to score.
The bottom of the WCA order set the table in the second. Freshman Paige Barnes, sophomore Olivia Vick and sophomore Kayla Farmer all singled to load the bases from the Nos. 7-9 positions, which preceded Matthews’ grand slam to left on a 1-0 count.
“We talk about everybody in their roles, and I’m so proud of those girls,” Reynell said of her bottom-order hitters. “They’ve come such a long way from last year and I’m so proud of how they did it. Big hitters can’t get the big hits when we don’t have people on, and they did a great job of setting the table and doing their job.”
Haley Bunting came up and took the first pitch she saw from Clark over the wall in left center, staking WCA to a 7-0 advantage. The Lady Chargers’ advantage became 9-0 in the third on Guilford College-bound Casey Bunting’s two-run single.
A pair of errors and a walk to Farmer loaded the bases and set the table for Haley Bunting’s game-ending slam in the fifth.
“It’s not all hitting me right now,” she said. “But it will hit me as soon as I get home that everything’s gone. My high school career is over with, and I’m just going to miss all the girls here.”
Clark took the loss in both Saturday games for Union Grove, with 10 of her 13 runs being earned.
Shortly after touching home on the final long ball of her high school career. Haley Bunting met Reynell for an emotional embrace.
“That’s what I told her when I gave her a hug,” Reynell said. “I said, kiddo, we couldn’t have written it any better. I’m proud of her, and I’m privileged to have a little part in her career. And Casey, and Haley (Parker). The seniors have been great. They’ve been a great leadership team, and certainly a big part of our squad. I’m definitely going to hate to see all of them go.”
Haley Bunting, WCA’s All-State selection, was 3 for 3 with her two homers and five runs driven in, while Matthews went 3 for 4 to include her grand slam. Vick went 2 for 2.
“They’re all unique for sure,” Reynell said of her third state championship team in as many seasons. “You never want to be complacent or take it for granted. But just the way it ended, it couldn’t have been scripted any better for our seniors. Definitely a sweet group and glad to be part of it, that’s for sure.”
Score by innings:
WP-Haley Bunting 5 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 13 SO. LP-Savannah Clark 4 IP, 12 H, 13 R, 10 ER, 3 BB, 1 SO.
LEADING HITTERS — Wilson Christian: Faith Matthews 3-4, HR, 4 RBI, Haley Bunting 3-3, 2 HR, 5 RBI, Olivia Vick 2-2; Union Grove: Jordan Taylor 1-1.
WINNER’S BRACKET FINAL
Score by innings:
WP-Jennifer Edmondson 2 2/3 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 3 SO. LP-Savannah Clark 1 IP, 6 H, 12 R, 5 ER, 5 BB, 0 SO.
LEADING HITTERS — Wilson Christian: Olivia Vick 2-2, RBI.