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KINSTON — More often than not, teams are at least mildly excited when, during an awards ceremony, they are presented hardware for a second-place tournament finish.
But little emotion was expressed when McKenna Griffin, one of two seniors, accepted the plaque for the Wilson Christian Academy softball team as the 2019 runner-up in the 2019 North Carolina Christian School Association 2-A state tournament that wrapped up a hot Saturday afternoon at Bethel Christian. A few players merely wiped away the tears.
After winning NCCSA 2-A championships the previous six years, the Lady Chargers of fourth-year head coach Carrie Reynell came away second best, losing 14-4 to Union Grove Christian of Lexington, the No. 1 West Region seed, in the championship series of the four-team, double-elimination tournament.
Both teams triumphed in Friday’s openers but, in Saturday morning’s winners’ bracket final, Union Grove hammered WCA, 14-1. In the losers’ bracket, the Lady Chargers, No. 1 from the East, earned a berth in the finals with a 17-6 rout of New Life Christian of Rocky Mount.
The Lady Patriots emerged undefeated in three outings to celebrate the title with a 11-4 record. Wilson Christian posted a 2-2 tournament worksheet and ended the season at 6-9.
“We scrapped, battled and played as hard as we could,” Reynell said. “We knew inexperience could hurt us and that Union Grove was steadily improving. And their errors were a little less frequent this year.”
Wilson Christian’s lineup this season featured six newcomers -— only one of which previously played softball. Four middle-school athletes started with holdovers Griffin, freshman Jennifer Edmondson, eighth-grader Holland Miller and sophomore Paige Barnes, Alyssa Reece, the other senior, played the sport for the first year after being recruited by Griffin.
In the final, Wilson Christian trailed only 3-2 when the Lady Patriots exploded for six runs in the bottom of the third inning. Union Grove walked off with four runs in the sixth.
Barnes, Mller and Edmondson each doubled for WCA and Miller and Madilyn Diehl each drove in two runs. Edmondson was the losing pitcher, The Lady Chargers could push across only four runs despite 11 hits yielded by winning pitcher Savannah Clark, a senior.
For Union Grove, Katlyn Rackard tripled, doubled and drove in two runs. Sophomore Hannah Hendricks, sophomore Faith Hauser and junior Jasmine Ward each doubled. Hendricks drove in three runs and eighth-grader Julia Wallace a pair.
In the first meeting, the score was tied 1-1 until the Lady Patriots struck for two runs in the third and 11 in the fourth. Winning pitcher Clark allowed two hits and three walks while striking out five in the five-inning stint. Edmondson, the loser, and Griffin gave up 14 hits.
Holland was WCA’s top offensive threat while Rackard slugged a home run and drove in three runs for Union Grove. Hauser and eighth-grader Raigen Wykes each doubled.
Against New Life, Wilson Christian drilled 12 hits and tallied three runs in each of the first three innings. Then came an eight-run spree in the fourth.
Griffin, the winning pitcher, allowed two hits and seven walks while striking out 11 in five innings. Griffin also rapped two doubles and drove in three runs.
Miller tripled while Edmondson and Faith Bridgers each doubled. Diehl drove in four runs and Barnes added three RBIs.
Griffin downplayed not winning the title for the first time in seven years.
“I was excited we actually had a team,” she explained. “I talked some girls into playing. We improved a lot, which makes me the happiest.”
“I was a little disappointed,” Reece assessed her only season of WCA softball. “But most of us were new and we improved a lot. We did pretty good overall.”
Reynell sees an eventual return to prominence.
“We’re young, we’re inexperienced, but we had a lot of growth,” she noted. “We’re going to work to continue to grow and get better. I was really proud of my younger girls and the bottom of the lineup. There’s always room for growth.
WINNERS BRACKET FINAL
Score by innings:
Wilson Christian 001 00 — 1
Union Grove 102 (11)x — 14
WP-Savannah Clark 5 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 3 BB, 5 SO. LP-Jennifer Edmondson 3 2/3 IP, 10 H, 13 R, 6 ER, 2 BB, 4 SO.
LEADING HITTERS— Wilson Christian: Holland Miller 1B; Union Grove: Katlyn Rackard HR, 3 RBI; Faith Hauser 2B, 2 RBI; Raigen Wykes 2B, Julia Wallace 3 RBI.
LOSERS BRACKET FINAL
Score by innings:
New Life Christian 202 02 — 6
Wilson Christian 333 8x — 17
WP-McKenna Griffin 5 IP, 2 H, 6 R, 3 ER, 7 BB, 11 SO. LP-Payton Tharrington 4 IP, 12 H, 17 R, 17 ER, 6 BB, 3 SO.
LEADING HITTERS— New Life Christian: Natalie Ricks 1B, Rachel Upchurch 1B; Wilson Christian: McKenna Griffin 2 2B, 3 RBI; Holland Miller 3B, 2 RBI; Jennifer Edmondson 2B, Faith Bridgers 2B, RBI; Madilyn Diehl 4 RBI, Paige Barnes 3 RBI.
Score by innings:
Wilson Christian 002 200 — 4
Union Grove 216 014 — 14
WP-Savannah Clark 6 IP, 11 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 1 BB, 2 SO. LP-Jennifer Edmondson 5 2/3 IP, 13 H, 14 R, 7 ER, 5 BB, 2 SO.
LEADING HITTERS— Wilson Christian: Paige Barnes 2B, Holland Miller 2B, 2 RBI; Jennifer Edmondson 2B, Madilyn Diehl 2 RBI; Union Grove: Katlyn Rackard 3B, 2B, 2 RBI; Hannah Hendricks 2B, 3 RBI; Faith Hauser 2B, RBI; Jasmine Ward 2B, RBI; Julia Wallace 2 RBI.