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ACHS tops North West Guilford, will host North Davidson on May 22

(Updated May 21, 9:53 am)

Lady Cougars top NWG, will host North Davidson Friday in West Regional semi-finals

By D.N. PENNELL, Jr.
   
    The Alexander Central Lady Cougar Softball Team scored seven times in its last two at-bats and punched its ticket to the state quarterfinals with a 10-4 win over the NW Guilford Vikings on Tuesday evening, May 19, at Central Park in Taylorsville.
    Alexander Central erased a one-run deficit and grabbed the lead in the game for good with four runs in the home half of the fifth frame. The Cougars tacked on three more runs in the sixth stanza for some breathing room.
    The Cougars, now 29-0, will put their state-record win streak of 95 straight victories on the line against a familiar foe, the North Davidson Black Knights, on Friday, May 22, with a spot in the state semi-finals at stake. The Knights knocked off West Forsyth 1-0 Tuesday in Clemmons.
    In Tuesday’s third round clash, ACHS survived despite being out-hit 13-11 on the day. NW Guilford’s hopes of a streak-snapping upset over the Cougars went by the wayside thanks to missed opportunities on the bases and some sparkling defense by ACHS to thwart Viking rallies.
    The Vikings loaded the bases with no outs in the first inning and looked poised to seize control of the game. However, Alexander buckled down for three straight outs to keep the visitors off the board. A strikeout by pitcher Kiana Millsaps, coupled with a pair of ground ball force outs by freshman Julie Gast at second base, allowed the Cougars to record three straight outs.
    The first inning frustration became a thing of habit for the Vikings throughout the game. NW put runners on base in each of the first five innings but were turned away several times thanks to rally-killing defensive gems by underclassmen Gast and Caroline Maltba.
    “The young kids on the infield stepped up in a huge way for us tonight,” Coach Monte Sherrill said following his team’s six-run win. “Julie did not look like a freshman at all. She made some of the biggest defensive plays of the season for us tonight to save several runs. At the same time, Caroline came up with a pair of huge plays at third to help us erase two runners in scoring position. Those plays proved to be huge in the big picture.”
    The defense Sherrill spoke of led to NW Guilford stranding 10 base runners in the first five innings of the game.
    Following the defensive stand in the top of the first, the Lady Cougars pushed across a pair of runs in the home half of the frame. Vada Sherrill led off the rally with the first of her two hits on the night. After swiping second base, Sherrill moved to third base on a Tianna Batts sacrifice bunt. Alexander’s first run crossed the plate when Sherrill jogged home on a towering double off the bat of Kiana Millsaps.
    Pinch runner Taylor Baker later scored on an RBI by Taylor Payne for a 2-0 ACHS lead.
    After the Vikings managed to cut the lead in half with a lone run in the third, ACHS got the run back in the bottom of the inning. Again, Millsaps blasted a long double to left field to plate Sherrill with her second run-scored of the game. Millsaps’ RBI gave the home team a 3-1 lead entering the fourth inning.
    Over the next two frames, the Vikings showed why they had advanced to the third round of the post season as they scored three times to take their first lead of the evening. NW scored once in the fourth to pull within a single run at 3-2. After retiring the Cougars in order in the bottom of the fourth, the Vikings went ahead in the top of the fifth with two big runs.
    As they have every time this season, the Cougars responded in their next at-bat and in a true-to-form fashion. The rally was set up by the team’s blistering speed at the top of the line.
    With one out, Vada Sherrill and Tianna Batts reached base to start the Cougar rally. With Alexander’s speedsters at second and third and one out, Millsaps stepped to the plate with a chance to put the home team back in front.
    ACHS did regain the lead during Millsaps’ at-bat,  but it did not happen in a traditional way. NW pitcher Gracen Staunton managed to retire Millsaps on a foul-ball fly out to the catcher near the visiting dugout at Central Park. On the play, Alexander’s Sherrill moved off of third base but seemed content to stay put rather than attempt to tag up.
    In an attempt to double Sherrill off of third, the Viking catcher fired the ball to the NW third-baseman in hopes of nabbing Sherrill for the third out  of the frame. The throw was narrowly off the mark and trickled away from the NW fielder. An alert Sherrill sprang to her feet and raced home as the ball came to rest about 10 feet behind the third base bag. While Sherrill raced home with the tying run, Batts sprinted to third base. Another throwing miscue by the Vikes allowed Batts to follow Sherrill to the plate with the go-ahead run. The unpredictable two-run play enabled the opportunistic Lady Cougars to go back in front 5-4. From there, the Cougars would never trail again.
    Two batters later, junior Taylor Payne cranked a two-run home run to left field for a 7-4 Alexander Central lead.
    The Cougars pushed across three more runs in the sixth frame to leave no doubt on the score board. In the sixth, Sherrill scored her fourth run of the game, while Millsaps picked up her third RBI. Sherrill is currently second all-time in runs scored and stolen bases in NCHSAA history, while Millsaps broke the record for RBI in a single season. She plated three runs in Tuesday’s win to up her season total to 65, breaking the 2014 mark of 64 held by former Cougar Taylor Wike.
    Sherrill finished with two hits, four runs, and four steals in the game and now has 194 runs scored in her career. The state record is held by Brittany Henry (2008-11) of Murphy High School at 199 runs scored. She is also second all-time in stolen bases with 149 in her career.
    Millsaps, who earned her 29th mound win this season and 72nd of her decorated career in the pitching circle, has also made a huge mark for the Cougars at the plate. She doubled twice in Tuesday’s win and her three-RBI performance added yet another ACHS name to the state record book with her season total of 65.
    “I can’t say enough about this pair of senior leaders,” Coach Sherrill said of Sherrill and Millsaps. Vada’s presence at the top of the order has set the table for us all season and that really showed for us today. With Vada and Tianna, we are able to put a huge amount of pressure on teams. Sometimes, that pressure forces teams to make mistakes they usually would not make. I think that’s what happened tonight. NW is a dang good team. We just managed to make the most of our opportunities.”
    The coach continued, “Kiana has battled for us all season. She has played through a nagging injury and continues to come out on top game after game. As always, she was able to make our speed pay off at the top of the line-up with three big runs-batted-in. I am so proud of those two, I just can’t say enough about what the two of them have meant to our program and the legacy they are going to leave on ACHS Softball for years to come.
    Millsaps, Sherrill, Makenzie Pennell, and Taylor Payne paired hits to lead Alexander’s 11-hit attack on offense. Tianna Batts, Makayla White, and Chelsea Krider added one hit apiece. Millsaps and Payne led the team with three RBI apiece.
    In the circle, Millsaps tossed a complete game despite surrendering a season-high 13 hits to the Vikings. Millsaps, who remained undefeated in her high school career at 72-0, struck out three.
    Becca Gold led NW with four hits and two RBI. Staunton was dealt the mound loss for the Vikings. She allowed seven runs on eight hits in five innings of mound action.

NORTH DAVIDSON COMES TO TOWN FRIDAY
    Tuesday wins by ACHS and North Davidson sets up another showdown between two of the winningest programs and coaches in state history. For the second straight season, the Cougars and North Davidson Black Knights will meet in the state playoffs. Last season, ACHS swept the Knights 2-0 in a best of three series to win the West Regional title.
    North Davidson won a pitchers’ duel over West Forsyth on Tuesday, setting up the quarterfinal clash with ACHS on Friday.
    The Cougars and Knights, as well as Coaches Monte Sherrill and Mike Lambros,  have long histories, including numerous post-season clashes over the last 25 plus seasons.
    Ironically, a Lambros-coached North Davidson team snapped Central Cabarrus’ 83-game win streak in 2007 when Sherrill served as the Lady Vikings’ Head Coach.
    The loss was Sherrill’s last in Concord as he returned to Alexander Central as Head Coach in 2008.
    The winner of Friday’s game at Central Park, will advance to the Western Regional Championship Series next week. Friday’s game is set to begin at 7 pm in Taylorsville.






STRONG WITH THE GLOVE - Lady Cougar freshman Julie Gast fields a ground ball and prepares to throw to first for the third out of the first inning on Tuesday. Gast’s defense was one of the keys to Alexander’s 10-4 win.
 
 

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