West Stanly softball punches ticket for fourth straight 2A state finals series with win

Published 3:40 pm Friday, May 26, 2023

The mission this season for the West Stanly softball team has been straightforward: win the 2A state title for the fourth straight season and sixth time in school history.

West Stanly took its experienced team onto the Colts’ home field Thursday to face a young West Wilkes Blackhawks team with a chance to advance to the state finals.

Trailing midway through the game, the second of the best-of-three 2A Western Region Series, West Stanly’s bats exploded for five runs to earn a 6-2 victory.

The Colts (29-1) will return to the 2A state finals for the fourth straight season this coming weekend and face either Midway (21-4) or North Johnston (16-5). As of print time, the two schools were scheduled to resume the 2A Eastern Regional Series Friday night.

West Stanly’s power at the plate helped lift the Colts to the win. The hosts took an early 1-0 lead when Kristen Smith led off the bottom of the first with a solo shot to right-center field.

West Wilkes (22-2) responded with two solo home runs from Madison Fletcher and starting pitcher Lily Proffit in the top of the third.

The Colts then trailed for a couple of innings and had to overcome trouble in the fifth. Two errors in the top of the fifth put a runner on third base. Lilly Hartsell made a spectacular catch against the fence in foul ground in left field, holding the Blackhawks’ runner to second. Ritchie then handled a hot shot to short to end the threat.

In the bottom of the fifth, the Colts’ offense exploded, starting with the hitter in the ninth position, Elizabeth Ingle. With a 2-0 count, Proffit tried to get a fastball by Ingle.

“After seeing the two balls, I had the mindset of going after the first strike,” Ingle said. “I saw it and was like, ‘I’m taking it,’ and I just took it.”

Where she took it was downtown for a game-tying solo home run, which sparked the team’s offense.

Payton Little (left) and Elizabeth Ingle celebrate Little’s three-run homer in the fifth inning. (Photo by Charles Curcio/staff)

Lily Huneycutt, who earned the win in the circle for the Colts, drove in the go-ahead run with a single later in the inning. Payton Little put an exclamation point on the rally with a three-run homer to give West Stanly a four-run lead.

“I just saw it and swung at it,” Little said.

Huneycutt then settled in and allowed one hit and one walk in the final two innings to earn the pitching victory. She fanned 10 batters for the game and allowed two earned runs on five hits. For the regional series, she struck out 29 batters.

“My teammates always have my back and they continued to pound that in my brain that they are behind me no matter what,” Huneycutt said.

West’s starting pitch credited Ingle for her solo home run which tied the game, saying “she came up to me and I just lost it. I knew then and there my team will always have my back.”

West Stanly head coach Emily Smith said her team’s confidence when trailing in the game comes from being in big-time games before.

“A lot of it comes from out senior leadership…all of our seniors have been here before,” Smith said.

“When we were down 2-1, we got a little nervous, but that’s when we rallied together and reminded each other that we’re going to be OK. We can hit and we can produce in the later innings.”

Winning a fourth straight state title and sixth overall, which would tie two state marks for overall fast-pitch titles and consecutive championships, “would mean the world to us,” Smith said. “I think that’s been on our minds with the mentality of taking it one game at a time. Our tough non-conference schedule helped us set up for conference and then moving into the playoffs.

“A fourth straight state championship would be huge for us.”

About Charles Curcio

Charles Curcio has served as the sports editor of the Stanly News & Press for more than 16 years and has written numerous news and feature storeis as well. He was awarded the NCHSAA Tim Stevens Media Representative of the Year and named CNHI Sports Editor of the Year in 2014. He has also won an award from Boone Newspapers, and has won four North Carolina Press Association awards.

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