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Complete domination

Lady Chargers alone at top of NCCSA softball ranks

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Wilson Christian’s softball team entered the weekend as the overwhelming favorite to win its sixth straight North Carolina Christian School Association championship.

The numbers over three games backed up the expectation.

In three games against Kinston Bethel Christian and Lexington Union Grove, the Lady Chargers outscored their opposition by a 47-0 margin and yielded four hits over the three games. None of the games exited the fifth inning.

Eighth grader Jennifer Edmondson pitched the first two games for the Lady Chargers before yielding to senior Haley Bunting for the championship game against Union Grove. There, Bunting tossed a one-hitter to go along with her two-homer game that included the game-ending grand slam.

“Very effortless, very fluid,” Wilson Christian head coach Carrie Reynell said of Bunting. “She loves the sport and makes it easy. My job is easy.”

NONCONFERENCE CHALLENGES

The Lady Chargers’ final 13-6 record was indicative of a team that made every effort to find a challenge in the nonconference portion of the schedule. Included on Wilson Christian’s slate outside of the NCCSA were two games against North Carolina High School Athletic Association opponent Beddingfield for the first time ever, as well as challenges against the likes of Rocky Mount Academy, Wake Christian and Halifax Academy from the North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association. Chocowinity Unity Christian, an independent program, also joined the fray.

That quintet was responsible for all six of WCA’s losses this season and holds a combined record of 79-9.

Beddingfield (17-4) finished in a tie for second in the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference and reached the second round of the NCHSAA postseason. Halifax Academy, at 15-2, waits to begin its playoff run in the NCISAA 1-A ranks and will take the No. 1 seed into its bracket.

Rocky Mount Academy, at 13-3, is seeded No. 3 in the NCISAA 2-A bracket, while Unity Christian wrapped up its year unbeaten in 14 contests.

Wake Christian, Wilson Christian’s former archrival in the NCCSA ranks, hasn’t lost in 20 meetings and was given the No. 3 seed in the NCISAA 3-A bracket.

“We try as much as we can to play the best competition,” Reynell said. “We want to improve and we want to get better. Sometimes that means taking hard shots, but that’s sometimes what needs to be done to help grow.”

RIVALRY ANYONE?

Wilson Christian has already seen one NCCSA archrival leave for the NCISAA ranks in this decade with Wake Christian. Now they will see another with the departure of Raleigh Friendship Christian. The Falcons are listed on the NCISAA website as an independent program. However, Friendship competed for NCCSA championships in 2017-18 and concluded the spring season with a third-place finish in girls soccer and a fourth-place showing in baseball.

While WCA and Friendship stand to see each other on a nonconference basis going forward, the move takes away another NCCSA opponent in close proximity to the Chargers. The schools are only separated by just over 46 miles.

Although in different districts of NCCSA play, Greenville Christian, situated just 40 miles from the Airport Boulevard campus, could ostensibly take a step up on the Chargers’ rivalry pecking order.

However, Wilson Christian exercised complete control over the Knights during the 2017-18 school year. Taking the team sports of volleyball, boys soccer, boys basketball, girls basketball, baseball and girls soccer into consideration — sports where both schools field varsity programs — the Chargers posted an 11-0 showing versus GCA in the recently concluded athletic year.

Not exactly the stuff of which rivalries are made.

FROM THE BOTTOM

The masterful end to a high school career for Wilson Christian senior Haley Bunting — one where she tossed a one-hitter and swatted two home runs in the championship game — was the overarching theme of the final win over Union Grove.

But Bunting’s solo homer in a five-run second was just a footnote for the Lady Chargers in that inning.

Preceding a grand slam by freshman Faith Matthews at the top of the order, Wilson Christian nipped and plucked its way to a trio of singles from its Nos. 7-9 spots in freshman Paige Barnes, sophomore Olivia Vick and sophomore Kayla Farmer.

Matthews then proceeded to guide a 1-0 pitch over the fence in center field for a 6-0 WCA lead. Bunting followed and deposited her own solo shot to left center for back-to-back homers.

“She’s a tremendous talent,” Reynell said of Matthews. “Definitely glad that she came aboard this year. We were blessed to have her join our school. She’s got a great future ahead of her, for sure.”

But it was the work of the underclassmen that set up the four-run bonanza from Matthews in the second.

“We talk about everybody in their roles, and I’m so proud of those girls,” Reynell said. “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.”

LOSE THREE SENIORS

Wilson Christian will see both Bunting cousins in Haley and Casey Bunting move onto college softball as Haley will go to NCAA Division II Chowan University. Casey is bound for Division III Guilford College, while the Lady Chargers also lose Haley Parker.

WCA was also staffed with junior McKenna Griffin, Vick, Farmer, sophomore Logan Woodard, freshman Chloe Willard, Matthews, Barnes, Edmondson and Holland Miller, a seventh grader.

Reynell, who wrapped up her third championship season in as many years at the helm, is assisted by Jonathan Ange.

YOUNG BUT READY

Three middle school players responded with key contributions when the Wilson Christian baseball team conquered Alamance Christian, 7-6, on its Turnage Athletic Complex diamond Saturday to seize the NCCSA 2-A championship.

Eighth-grader Dylan Farmer faced the daunting task of starting at shortstop for the Chargers.

Farmer did not enjoy one of his best afternoons with the glove, but he didn’t lack grit, kept grinding and delivered WCA’s first big hit — a two-run double in the second inning.

Talk about being thrown into the proverbial fire, seventh-grade pitcher Hunter Lewis, a left-hander, was called upon to pitch in relief in the middle innings and keep his team in the game.

All Lewis did was work three innings — when he allowed four hits and three unearned runs. He did not issue a walk and struck out two. Lewis departed with one out in the sixth, with the Chargers out front 6-4.

With the score tied 6-6 in the top of the seventh inning, seventh-grader Seth Quinn was summoned into action as a pinch runner after second baseman Max Holland singled with two outs. Quinn was incorrectly identified as Holland in the caption of a photo that appeared in Monday’s edition of the Times.

Quinn promptly stole second base and continued to third when the catcher’s throw sailed into center field. Quinn stopped at third base — but only for an instant. He was awarded home plate with the run that won the state championship when the throw from center field sailed in the dead-ball area behind third base.

JUST TWO SENIORS

Preston Skinner and Carlos Molina were the only WCA seniors.

Completing the state-championship roster were juniors Adrian Dehart, Zack Denmark, Jackson Hoskins, Bryce Hughes and Brice Murray; sophomores Holland, Gabe Barnes and Will Shearin; freshmen Spencer Parker and Calvin Peacock; eighth-grader Dylan Farmer and seventh-graders Hunter Lewis and Seth Quinn.

Understandably, head coach Ty Bissett harbors high hopes for 2019 — especially with all-star pitcher-shortstop Brice Murray healthy for his senior season.

THREE CHARGERS HONORED

The awards for the state-championship WCA baseball team included Murray being named NCCSA All-State and Skinner and Barnes each being proclaimed All-East Region.

Murray, a right-hander who missed the playoffs because of an injury, posted a 5-2 won-lost record with one complete game and a 2.69 earned run average. In 26 innings, Murray registered 31 strikeouts and only issued 12 walks.

Offensively, Murray batted a healthy .377 (20 for 53) with 18 runs scored, 12 runs batted in, two doubles, a triple and two stolen bases.

Skinner, who primarily saw action at designated hitter and first base, led the team with a .453 (24 of 53) batting average, 20 RBIs and two home runs. He scored 13 runs.

In five appearances on the mound, Skinner posted an 0.91 ERA.

Barnes, who played numerous positions, paced the Chargers with 29 runs scored and 12 stolen bases. He hit at a .390 (32 of 82) clip, drove in 15 runs and belted three doubles.

COACHING ROLES

Certainly active in Saturday’s championship game were WCA assistant coaches Gee Sauls, Brian Davis and Wayne Hoskins.

All three joined Bissett in constantly encouraging and mentoring the players.

AG’S LEGACY

Saturday’s 3-2 loss to Alamance Christian in the NCCSA 2-A girls soccer championship match ended the career of one of the best players to ever wear a Lady Chargers uniform. Anna Grace Abrams, who spent her first two high school seasons at Fike, left an indelible mark at Wilson Christian, where she began her school career as a youngster. Abrams, who scored both WCA goals Saturday, was the center of Wilson Christian’s offense from her center midfield spot and just as reliable a defensive player.

The Liberty University signee proved to be one of the top players in the NCCSA ranks statewide.

“Truthfully, she’s been phenomenal for us,” WCA head coach Don Samson said. “Her skill, I think, is unparalleled, especially in our association but we credit her for being a coach on the field.”

Indeed, Abrams was an unquestioned leader on the pitch.

With no score in the first half of Saturday’s game, injured Wilson Christian freshman Lea Gossett shouted from the sideline, “Make something happen, A.G.!”

Shortly thereafter, Abrams did just that with a booming kick from well outside the 18-yard-line that settled just under the crossbar for a goal that tied the score. She later added a penalty kick goal.

SOCCER ALL-STATE

Abrams led a trio of Lady Chargers named to the NCCSA 2-A All-State Team, along with freshman goalkeeper Kendall Harris and junior center back Jenna Varnell.

All-East Region selections for Wilson Christian were senior forward Jenna Hunter, junior outside back Caitlyn Barnes, sophomore outside back Lydia Renfrow and sophomore outside midfielder Kristen Reece.

Not surprisingly, the majority of Wilson Christian honorees were defensive players for a team allowed just 17 goals all season and posted six shutouts en route to a 13-2-1 record.

Harris was especially impressive given that she hadn’t played much between the posts with four-year starter Kimberly Lamm, now a freshman at North Carolina Wesleyan College, anchoring the spot before this spring.

“They all stepped up,” Samson said. “Jenna Varnell playing center back with Kendall behind her. I think they trusted each other and worked well together.”

MISSING PIECES

The Lady Chargers were missing two key offensive pieces this season due to injury. Neither freshman Lea Gossett, their top scorer as an eighth-grader last year, nor sophomore Ashley Hartsfield played a minute this spring.

“She definitely would have been another scoring threat for us,” Samson said of Hartsfield, who, like Renfrow, transferred from Community Christian School before the school year began.

The good news is that WCA will have both those players back next season from a starting lineup that’s only losing Abrams and Hunter, along with fellow senior Olivia Cooper.

“We’re looking forward to having her and Ashley coming back,” Samson said. “We’re going to definitely miss Jenna and AG but we’re not going to go back very much with who we have coming back.”

And very likely, the Lady Chargers will face Alamance Christian, which won its fourth state title in five years. The Lady Warriors, who lost in four overtimes to WCA in the 2017 final, only list three seniors on their roster.

“We’re probably lined up for another rematch next year,” Samson said.

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