By Bob Sutton
Special to The Alamance News
For Western Alamance seniors, it has been a rewarding journey through high school softball.
The Warriors have come so far.
“You see how we played this year and how much better we’ve gotten since freshman year,” senior third baseman Payton Rainey said.
Already making school history by reaching the state championship series, there’s something more for Western to accomplish. The Warriors meet East Lincoln in the best-of-3 Class 3-A state finals later this week at UNC Greensboro Softball Stadium.
“I knew we had a shot as long as the girls bought in and worked hard,” coach Scott Bell said. “With the pitching we had, and our bats have come along, and our defense has picked up.”
The first pitch of the finals will be thrown by Western senior standout Taylor Apple. The series opens at 6:00 p.m. Friday, with Game 2 at noon Saturday and, if necessary, Game 3 at 3:00 p.m. Saturday.
Read earlier story on Western’s pitcher, Taylor Apple: https://alamancenews.com/for-western-taylor-apple-is-the-apple-of-teams-eye/
While the Warriors (22-3) put together records of more than 20 wins in two of the previous four full seasons, 2023 had great promise.
“We came back better,” Apple said.
From a season ago, the Warriors returned all their starters except for first baseman Angel Villasana. They also had the return of catcher Carley Minter, who transferred out for a year.
Minter and 2022 catcher Kara Alday shared duties behind the plate before Alday moved to first base.
“I think the best thing about this whole thing is we all came together because we knew it could be our last chance,” Minter said, then holding up her thumb and index finger. “We’re this close. I couldn’t have any more faith in us.”
Minter played as a junior at Greater Vision Academy.
“I wanted to come back to a better competition,” Minter said. “I wanted to be here with all the people I grew up playing with.”
The Warriors are unscored upon in their last 10 games.
With more than a week off between the regionals and state finals, Bell said that’s no concern considering how the team responded coming out of spring break. The Warriors have gone 13-0 since that layoff.
“I think that really refreshed us,” he said. “I think the rest rejuvenated them.”
Bell said the hype for the Warriors this week is something the team must deal with. He spoke to Eastern Alamance coach Danny Way, whose team won two recent state championships, during the weekend about some of the particulars.
This is Western’s turn to shine.
“There’s a lot going on this week,” Bell said. “We want three good practices and go get ready to play. You want them to enjoy it. I think they’re all soaking it in.”
East Lincoln (23-2) is also seeking its first state championship. The Mustangs played three one-run games in the West Region finals with Rockingham County, winning the first and third games.
Western will be the designated home team for Game 1 and, if it’s necessary, for Game 3.
In the East Region finals, the Warriors swept the best-of-3 series with South Johnston, winning 2-0 in last Thursday night’s Game 2 road assignment at Four Oaks. Apple threw a one-hitter and also homered.
Apple struck out 14 batters and walked two. Ryan Justice tripled and scored in the first inning for Western. Apple’s home run in the sixth inning expanded the lead. At the plate, Apple had two of Western’s five hits.
Defensively, the Warriors had special moments with shortstop Jillian Brunton making a diving catch and center fielder Makena Harper securing a highlight-worthy snag.
Western won May 23 in Game 1 by 5-0 at home behind Apple’s perfect game from the pitching circle.
South Johnston’s final record is 24-3.