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KENLY — An emphatic statement to the success of the North Johnston High softball program was delivered during an informal gathering in the school auditorium Wednesday morning.
Five senior members of the current team signed National Letters of Intent to continue their careers at the collegiate level.
Headed to the NCAA Division I ranks are right-handed pitcher Amberlynn Pearce at UNC Wilmington and shortstop Blayke Batten at UNC Greensboro.
NCAA Div. II bound are corner infielder Lindsey Massengill at Barton College and utility performer Olivia Gachuz at the University of Mount Olive.
Center fielder/catcher Jordyn Scott signed with Louisburg College of the National Junior College Athletic Association ranks.
Panthers head coach Chris Batten noted the situation matches 2013.
“It’s always great,” he said. “I am not so sure that the number is as big a deal as the consistency from year-to-year. Every year, we put one or two in college.”
“Crazy,” Pearce described the situation. “We have all grown up with each other, and we have all wanted to play college softball since we were little. It’s crazy to know we’ve all made it.”
“This means a lot,” added Blayke Batten, the daughter of the head coach. “We have all been playing together since we were little.”
“Playing sports and going to school can be a lot,” Massengill declared. “But it keeps me focused so that I can reach the goal of becoming a collegiate athlete.”
The early signing occasion among teammates, friends, family and school officials unfolded as extremely exciting for Gachuz.
“When I was little, I was told I would never play college ball because I was too small (now 5-foot-1),” Gachuz explained.
Scott reasoned: “We’re pretty deep and dedicated. I think a lot of us have worked hard.”
NORTH JOHNSTON ROLL
North Johnston has seized three consecutive 2-A Eastern Plains Conference championships during their careers. Most became impact players as sophomores and, in the last two seasons, the Lady Panthers possess a 47-9 record with appearances in the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 2-A East Region finals in 2018 and the third round in 2017.
North Johnston stands 27-3 in conference play the last three seasons. Understandably, expectations are immensely high in 2018.
In the last two seasons, Pearce has notched some 40 mound wins with a 2.37 career earned run average. In the last two seasons, the 18-year-old daughter of Junior and Lynn Pearce has batted .327, including .398 last season.
Batten’s combined average for the last two seasons is a scorching .449. She has blasted 15 home runs, including nine in 2017.
Massengill has been a .478 hitter the last two seasons and seldom strikes out. Gachuz hiked her average to .300 in 2017 and can hit with power.
Scott, who decided late she wanted to play collegiately, has batted a sizzling .486 the last two seasons. The daughter of Shannon Hamilton and Neal Scott has slugged 15 homers the last two seasons, belting nine last year.
ABOUT THE QUINTET
All of the signees are age 17 except Pearce. Pearce and Massengill each stand 5-6, while Batten is 5-7 and Scott 5-4.
Gachuz’s parents are German and Christy Gachuz, while Massengill is the daughter of Sharon and Wayne Massengill. And don’t forget her sister, Jessica. Batten is the daughter of Chris and Krista Batten.
Pearce and Batten will oppose one another in Div. I competition, while Massengill and Gachuz are going to schools that are archrivals in Conference Carolinas. Scott does not expect to play after her two years at Louisburg.
All five are multi-sport athletes with the Lady Panthers and their backgrounds include travel softball.
The spring of 2019 will mark the third year of starting for Batten, Scott, Massengill and Pearce, who was elevated to the varsity during the midpoint of her freshman season.
“I started leaning on her on the mound early on,” Chris Batten said of Pearce. “Emotionally, she doesn’t get too high or too low. She has good speed but is not overpowering. She does a great job of locating (her pitches).”
The Lady Panthers head coach described his daughter as a “late bloomer.”
“Between her freshman and sophomore years, her ability with the bat and to play in the field really settled down and took off,” he said. “When it started clicking, it happened fast. She’s probably our most consistent power threat.”
Chris Batten noted Scott was converted from catcher to center field her freshman year, adding: “The fit was very good. She has incredible hand speed and tons of power. She has learned to be more disciplined at the plate. She didn’t get serious about being recruited until late, but Louisburg is a good fit.”
The coach hailed Massengill for “probably progressing as much as anybody we’ve had since 2012-13. She is a lock-down third baseman and, at the plate, understands where her success is. She’s a gap-to-gap hitter, reliable and hits for average with some pop.”
Gachuz, Chris Batten noted, has primarily filled a flex role the last two seasons and started some in the outfield last season.
“Defensively, between her freshman and sophomore years, she has gotten much better,” he continued. “Offensively, she has continued to work. Olivia is quite, soft-spoken and a perfect team player.”
Pearce understands playing at the Div. I level is extremely demanding. She also considered Elon University.
“I’m excited and think I’m ready,” she said. “I know a lot of girls down there. It’s a competitive program and I am going to train hard and continue pitching over the summer.
“My (pitching) speed is good, but I am going to work to throw harder and improve the spin on my breaking pitches. Hopefully, I can go in and be able to pitch my freshman year.”
Pearce revealed that she grew up wanting to play college softball and attempted to emulate sensational fastpitch star pitcher Jennie Finch.
“I pursued my dream and it’s finally happened,” she exclaimed. “I’m very honored, but I’ve had to work my butt off. And without my parents’ support, I wouldn’t be here.”
Batten pointed out she was motivated to follow her sister, who played at Longwood University. She considered Lenoir-Rhyne before deciding upon UNC Greensboro. Batten must also prove she can play at the Div. I level.
“The team is really close and it’s a good program,” Batten said of her decision. “I like the school and coaches. I hope I get on the field and play.”
Batten noted she was recruited to play middle infield. She possesses a 3.4 grade-point average and will pursue a degree in education.
She plans to keep working and playing softball through the summer.
“I have been wanting to play college ball since I was little,” Batten remarked. “It’s exciting, but I have kind of worked for it. I am proud of myself — it’s not easy. I am ready to go and start something new.”
Massengill chose Barton over Francis Marion University. She was recruited to play either third or first base. The possessor of a 4.1 grade-point average, Massengill plans to seek a degree in exercise science.
She cited Barton’s small environment and the presence of head coach Junior Bailey.
“He is really changing that program,” Massengill said. “It’s going good.
“I want to prove myself and get playing time. I want to continue to have a high batting average and few strikeouts. I want to show them what I know I can do.”
Massengill reported her career started with 8-under travel ball and observed: “I have known I wanted to play college ball for a while. Today is very exciting.”
Gachuz emphasized she has been stuck on playing at Mount Olive.
“I did a few camps, but I have known since the eighth grade that’s where I wanted to go,” she declared. “It feels like home and I know a lot of people that work there. It’s where God wanted me to be.”
Gachuz expects to earn a degree in physical education. She owns a 3.7 grade-point average.
She is coming off an outstanding tennis season in which she went undefeated in singles in the Eastern Plains Conference.
“I am going to work hard and be a good teammate,” Gachuz pledged. I am blessed that I have gotten to this point, but I have worked hard.”
Scott confirms she wasn’t certain she wanted to become a college athlete but, of her decision, she responded: “I feel good, excited. The (Louisburg) team is pretty good and I love the coach (Eric Lee).”
Her Lady Panthers background includes volleyball and basketball and she eyes a degree in either psychology or biology. Scott possesses a 3.6 grade-point average.
Scott will likely return to the catching position at Louisburg. That has always been her spot in travel ball.
She excelled in center field with the Lady Panthers and, of the fact she will probably be abandoning the position, she said: “It kind of sucks, but I am still excited.
“I don’t expect to play a lot, but I do expect to be given a chance. I plan to work hard and earn my spot.”