WALLBURG — High Point Christian left little doubt in clinching its championship series.
The top-seeded Cougars smashed three home runs and, behind an outstanding pitching performance by eighth-grader Paisley Dixon, raced past second-seeded Hickory Grove 14-2 in five innings Saturday afternoon at Wallburg Baptist Church.
After crushing the Lions 11-0 in five innings Friday in the series opener, HPCA sealed its second straight NCISAA 3A softball state championship in its third straight finals appearance.
“We played well today,” Cougars coach Lin Hayworth said. “We hit it well and their pitcher is really good. We were just really aggressive. The kids barrelled it up, we put a lot of pressure on them. I thought they played pretty well, but we just hit it.”
It was the culmination of a dominant run in which HPCA (19-7) won 11 games by 10 runs or more — including all four of its state playoff games. The Cougars’ championship series performance completely overwhelmed Hickory Grove, which last year stayed with HPCA during a tight, three-game championship series at North Davidson.
But this time the Cougars, getting hits and moving runners, were relentless in grabbing the lead and never letting up. Their pitching and defense kept opponents in check, and suddenly HPCA — led by seniors Mary Douglas Hayworth, an outfielder, and Lexi Hall, a pitcher/infielder, and loaded with young talent — was in full control.
“It feels really great,” said Maci Burkhart, a sophomore catcher. “I knew at the beginning of the season that we had a chance. We played good competition and it prepared us for this game. We knew they had good pitchers coming in, and we just battled back and our offense was good. We just came out on top.”
The Cougars started the season strong — going 11-1 with wins against the likes of traditional area powers Central Davidson and Ledford, 4A champion Cannon, 4A finalist Charlotte Christian, 4A semifinalist North Raleigh Christian and Hickory Grove. But five losses in six games during spring break and shortly thereafter knocked them back.
And they needed to get back on track.
“We had a lot of growth because we have a lot of young players,” Mary Douglas Hayworth said. “When we had that little slump, I think we matured a lot. And we saw that even though we might be the better team, the better team doesn’t always win.
“Sometimes you play bad, sometimes things happen that are out of our control. So, I think we matured a lot from that. And from the first playoff game, where they were up on us, we realized that we still have to play hard — you can’t give in.”
Wins against the Forsyth Home Educators, West Stokes and rival Wesleyan Christian got HPCA heading back in the right direction. Even with a close loss at Charlotte Christian to end the regular season, the Cougars were back playing well into the playoffs — netting wins against Gaston Christian and Concord Academy.
The result was a particularly strong finish and another state championship.
“We went to the beach and played really tough competition,” said Coach Hayworth, who’s assisted by Brian Bowman, Chris Jarrell, Dustin Hall and Todd Smith. “We did it last year and it shows us: OK, here’s something we need to work on.
“Then we came back and about the last week has probably been the best we’ve played all year. We hadn’t hit but one home run all year and we hit three today. They were on it. I’d love to have another week. It’s just so much fun.”
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