West Stanly claims fourth straight state title, overwhelms Midway

Published 10:30 pm Saturday, June 3, 2023

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Entering the second game of the NCHSAA 2A State Finals Series, the West Stanly softball team’s offense had not put up double digits since the opening game of the state playoffs. That day, West opened with an 11-0 win over Randleman.

Saturday saw the Colts score early and often to earn the school’s fourth straight 2A state championship and sixth in school history with a 10-0 six-inning win over Midway. The Colts (31-1) sit with Alexander Central and East Surry atop the listings for most state titles. West is also the only team other than East Surry to win four fastpitch titles in a row.

The Colts’ offense was not the only part of the team’s game which was on fire. Lily Huneycutt, after allowing two runs and an uncharacteristic four walks in Friday’s win, pitched a six-inning one-hit shutout, striking out 11. The only hit she allowed was a one-out single to left in the top of the second inning by Mallory Baggett.

Huneycutt, one of six seniors on the team, said she felt more comfortable coming into Saturday’s game.

“Yesterday, our bats were there, and I was hoping our bats were going to be there today, too,” Huneycutt said.

She did not have to hope for very long. The Colts started their offensive onslaught immediately in the bottom of the first as Teagan Ritchie tripled and scored on a Lily Huneycutt infield single.

Payton Little then stepped up and crushed a ball to center field for a two run home run.

“We were hitting the ball yesterday, too,” Little said. “I just feel like we came out ready. I guess we ate our Wheaties this morning.”

The Colts’ onslaught continued in the bottom of the second as nine batters went to the plate and five ended up crossing it. Kristen Smith both had RBI singles, then catcher Carmen McRae drove two in with a single to center. Aliyah Rush, who missed a home run down the left field line by inches, doubled to center to score McRae for an eight-run advantage.

Leading 8-0 in the third, Huneycutt retired the next 11 batters. In the top of the sixth, she walked one batter and hit the next one, but came back for her 11th strikeout of the game.

When she struck out the first batter, the Duke public address announcer made the announcement of her notching her 500th career strikeout. With Saturday’s efforts, she will graduate with 510 career Ks.

“I knew I had to find something different, do something different. I think I found it and it worked,” Huneycutt said of her improvement from Friday’s opening game of the series. “If your team is hitting the ball…and that’s what they did today; it helped me out so much. The stress and anxiety were pretty much gone.”

The Colts added a run in the bottom of the fifth on a fielding error and nearly ended the game that inning, but Ritchie was thrown out at the plate.

West amassed 17 hits in the game, including six extra base hits. Little finished with two hits and three RBIs while Rush was 3-for-3 and scored the walk off run in the bottom of the sixth. She was hit by a pitch and scored when Brooklyn Lovin’s single to center got past Baggett, allowing Rush to score from first.

The Colts got two RBIs each from Huneycutt and McRae, while Kristen Smith and Rush also drove in a run each. Ritchie was 2-for-2 with two doubles as well.

Emily Smith, earning her second straight title as West Stanly head coach, said her team was more aggressive in Saturday’s win.

“Yesterday, we got all the jitters out. Today, we just came in prepared and focused, kind of knowing what the pitching style was going to be,” Smith said.“I think we just came ready to end this in two games. We truly came with firepower and, right off the bat, set the tone for the rest of the game.”

Regarding Huneycutt in the circle, Smith said there were many impressive things about her.

“The way she can keep her composure in tight situations…the way that she had control of her pitches today,” Smith said. “She’s just a fighter to win the state championship MVP two years in a row is just incredible and almost unheard of, so I’m extremely proud of her.”

Huneycutt credited her teammates.

“I will never forget these girls,” she said. “They have been there no matter what. We don’t give up. That’s one thing I will never forget.”

West’s 31 wins this season is among the most wins in a season ever for a high school fastpitch softball team from Stanly, besting South Stanly’s 30 wins in their championship season last year.

“I have watched a lot of those teams that have won before,” Smith said regarding previous West championship teams (1997, 2013, 2019, 2021, 2022) along with South (1998, 2012, 2022) and North Stanly (2017). The Colts’ win this year makes it 10 fastpitch titles won by Stanly teams.

“I would put this team among the elite. To get to a state championship and win it, you have to be elite, and so I’d give credit to all the Stanly County teams and ours as well,” Smith said. “Stanly County just has a huge tradition of softball that we just try to keep going every year. I couldn’t be more proud to be from Stanly County and to be involved in the West Stanly softball program.”

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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