NJ’s Batten, Pearce tabbed EPC softball Co-Players of the Year

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A sharing arrangement was not palatable for the North Johnston High varsity softball team in 2017.

In two of the four years of the previous North Carolina High School Athletic Association realignment period, the Lady Panthers were embroiled in a three-way tie for the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference title with Washington and Beddingfield in 2014 and 2016.

Sophomore pitcher Amberlyn Pearce and leadoff-hitting classmate Blayke Batten helped ensure North Johnston wouldn’t split the latest title run in any form.

Coming off a 20-6 season that saw the Lady Panthers reach the fourth round of the NCHSAA 2-A postseason, Pearce and Batten highlighted a strong five-player presence on the EPC all-conference roster by being named EPC Co-Players of the Year.

“I felt accomplished and thankful for it,” Pearce said in a telephone interview Wednesday afternoon. “I had a good team working behind me.”

Behind her rise ball and curveball as the tools to finish opposing hitters, Pearce compiled 20 of the Lady Panthers’ 21 victories from the pitching circle. In working 16 complete games, Pearce only allowed opposing batters to connect at a .162 clip. Her 2.75 earned run average was supplemented by a strikeout-to-walk ratio that climbed above 2 to 1, striking out 151 and walking 62. Pearce allowed 59 earned runs over the course of 2017.

“I tried to strike them out mostly,” Pearce said of her approach in the circle. “But if it didn’t work, I was just trying to get them to hit bloopers or pop flies. I knew my team would field them and we’d be fine.

Pearce also contributed to a North Johnston lineup that hit .342 as a unit. She drove in 19 runs and contributed a .256 average at the plate.

Batten, the daughter of Lady Panthers head coach Chris Batten, set the table at the top of North Johnston’s lineup. She was one of four everyday starters for the Lady Panthers that eclipsed the .400 mark, boasting a .402 average with 22 RBIs and six doubles. Her bat also carried an element of power to it from the shortstop position, with four home runs on a North Johnson offense that hit 31 long balls. Batten was not caught trying to steal on the bases in 12 attempts.

“As a leadoff, you had to set the tone for the team,” Batten said. “If you make a bad hit, you have to go to the next (on-deck) batter. You’ve got to make sure you have a quick reaction time and read it off the bat.

With the new scheduling arrangement in EPC play that sent teams against each other in back-to-back contests, there wasn’t much time to make adjustments against an opponent’s ace pitcher.

“With the same teams, if you didn’t do too well against a certain pitcher, you had to adjust,” Batten said.

However, making those quick turnaround tweaks didn’t faze this North Johnston team, which won the league with a 9-1 record by a game over outgoing Washington.

Pearce and Batten were joined on the all-EPC rolls by three teammates in sophomore Lindsey Massengill, junior Jada Santiago and sophomore Hannah Wall. The team loses just three seniors.

Wall led North Johnston offensively with a .465 average and 35 RBIs, both team highs. She slugged eight doubles, five triples and three home runs.

Santiago wielded the biggest hammer for the Lady Panthers, leading the way with 10 homers. Her .408 average at the plate included 34 RBIs, seven doubles and three triples. Massengill owned a .439 average in 100 plate appearances, driving in 29 runs with five doubles and a pair of homers.

Sophomore Jordyn Scott was North Johnston’s honorable mention selection, slugging eight homers while contributing at a .329 clip with 21 runs batted in.

Third-place Beddingfield, which finished 16-5 overall and 6-3 within the league, placed junior Savannah Barberio, junior Brianna Hale, senior Lindsey Godwin and junior Chloe Radford on the all-conference team as the Lady Bruins reached the second round of the playoffs.

Hale was a force at the plate and in the pitching circle, hitting .410 with 19 RBIs and a pair of homers. She was responsible for 10 doubles.

Responsible for all but two of Beddingfield’s victories in the circle, Hale (14-5) fashioned a 2.11 ERA in 111 innings pitched. Her control was on display, striking out 124 while walking just 29 batters in 20 appearances.

Pierce, bound for Meredith College, wielded a .446 average at the plate and drove in 16 runs. That figure included four triples, seven doubles and a trio of homers. Pierce also swiped 13 bases.

Godwin hit .462 with 13 RBIs and five doubles, while Radford also joined the Beddingfield .400 club with a .420 mark. Godwin’s power numbers extrapolated to 11 doubles, two triples and six home runs to go along with 25 RBIs.

SouthWest Edgecombe, which finished fourth in the conference at 4-6 and 11-11 overall, qualified for the playoffs and lost to North Johnston in the opening round. The Lady Cougars were represented on the all-EPC squad by junior Megan Deal and senior Kamryn Varnell.

Deal led the Lady Cougars offensively with a .515 batting average, hitting three doubles and driving in 11 runs. Varnell gave SouthWest its element of power, pacing the squad with five homers and hitting .435. Varnell drove in 25 runs and tallied four doubles.

Varnell also logged time in the circle during her final campaign in Pinetops, compiling a 3-2 record with four complete games. With a 4.79 ERA, Varnell struck out 25 batters in 38 innings of work.

jlewis@wilsontimes.com | 265-7807 | Twitter: @JimmyLewisWT