Quartet seeking regional berths
By Jake Keator
The Daily Reflector
Friday, May 17, 2019
As the high school state playoffs progress, nights at most other schools have become less and less active as remaining teams are forced out after each round, their seasons ended, and preparations for next season already begun.
Such is not the case for the D.H. Conley Vikings, who have three teams on the brink of reaching the 3-A East Regional finals. While the Vikings continue their home-field advantage at Hollywood Crossroads, the top-seed South Central Falcons softball team continues to push on as well, looking to reach and then surpass the East finals.
No. 3 Fike at No. 2 D.H. Conley (7 p.m.)
The Vikings baseball squad has been feeling it at the plate, having won all three of its playoff games by three or more runs.
Head coach Jason Mills found his preferred batting order early, placing outfielder, speed demon and Pitt Community College commit Cam Jackson in the leadoff spot. Jackson and Jake Lysaght, the Vikings’ top two batters, are followed by powerhouse UNC Greensboro commit Robbie O’Neal, who has had no trouble bringing home runs, currently holding a .346 batting average with 31 RBIs and four home runs.
Breakout freshman pitcher Matthew Matthijs also has continued to shine. Matthijs (9-0) dominated in the Vikings’ third-round win over Jacksonville on Tuesday. He posted a final stat line of 6.1 innings pitched, one hit allowed, and seven strikeouts using 83 pitches. While Matthijs shines as the team’s ace, Mitchell Hoffler has proven himself to be the top option in relief. Hoffler (4-1) currently holds a team-low .070 ERA over 30 innings pitched, including five saves.
The 3-A Big East Conference champion Demons place their emphasis on defense. Fike recorded six shutouts in the regular season. Opponents scored five or more runs only five times when facing Fike, and the Demons’ standout defense has held all three of its playoff opponents to no more than two runs.
The winner will face the winner of top-seeded New Hanover and fourth-seeded Terry Sanford for a three-game series to determine the East’s state championship contender.
PREDICTION: Conley downs Fike and advances to the East regional finals.
No. 5 Southern Alamance at No. 1 D.H. Conley (7 p.m.)
DHC has prided itself on brilliant pitching, particularly from Lauren Wiles. The sophomore hurler allowed just three hits in a complete-game effort against third-round opponent Harnett Central, holding the Trojans hitless until late in the sixth inning.
The dynamic duo of twin sisters Lexi and Alexis Phillips have continued their 100 percent-effort style of play. No matter if it’s warm ups or game time, the Phillips sisters are throwing as accurately and as powerfully as they can. The energy pays off, and with Lexi at thrid and Alexis at shortstop, batters rarely have a shot to sneak a ground ball past either sister.
While that pair also excels from the plate, a new face has jumped out in the stat sheet in freshman Anna Sawyer, who enters the game with a .595 batting average and 62 RBIs. The young outfielder has plenty of speed as well, making her a threat to move around the basepaths quickly.
Conley head coach Wayne Deans described the fourth round as the program’s “Achilles heel.” DHC has ended its season in the fourth round the past two seasons, putting an extra emphasis on earning the win for the current senior class.
The Patriots ended the regular season as champions of the 3-A Mid-Piedmont Conference, which featured a three-way tie between Southern Alamance, Ashboro and Southwestern Randolph, all of which finished 10-2 in the conference.
Southern Alamance defeated 28-seed Lee County, 5-1 in Round One, 21-seed Pearson 3-2 in the second round, and four-seed Topsail Tuesday to advance to face the Vikings.
PREDICTION: The Patriots’ confidence allows them to stick around, but the Vikings ultimately shut the door and get over the fourth-round hump.
No. 4 Hoggard at No. 1 South Central (7 p.m.)
South Central enters the fourth round on a high note, dispatching the reigning state champions, Jack Britt, 10-3 on Tuesday night. After gaining revenge for their 2018 4-A East Regional Final loss, the Falcons will look to topple Hoggard in order to return to the same place as last season.
Speed and power are the name of the game for head coach Cotton Nicholson’s squad. Seniors lead the way for this group, including the stolen base threat of Madison Deanes and the power of PCC commits Amya Evans and Marissa Roach. Evans and Roach both boast bating averages higher than .500, with Evans at .513 and Roach at .519. The pair has 10 home runs combined, including Evans’ eight. Both of Roach’s homers, however, have been grand slams, padding her team-leading 48 RBIs.
The Vikings finished third in the 3-A/4-A Mideastern Conference, but that might be misleading. The conference also holds very familiar names used to success such as conference champion Topsail, West Brunswick and E.A. Laney.
Leading the charge for the Vikings is sophomore Icess Tresvik who holds a team-high .405 batting average. SC pitcher Izzy Moore should have the advantage on getting ahead of the Vikings lineup, as only one other batter has an average over .350 (Sydney Short, .373).
The Falcons lineup is full of experience, which could prove useful should the team wind up needing any late-game heroics.
The winner will take on the winner between three-seed Heritage and two-seed Holly Springs in the East finals.
PREDICTION: SC pulls away late to return to the east finals for the second straight season.
No. 5 Clayton at No. 1 D.H. Conley
Midfielder Gabby Kirkman and goalkeeper Maeve English were the heroes in Conley’s 1-0 win over Chapel Hill Wednesday, and the challenge only gets harder when five-seed Clayton comes to town.
English has had a stellar season in goal for the Vikings, while other experienced faces such as Kirkman and Jenna Rupp have helped facilitate the attack on the other end. After an emotional victory Tuesday, the Vikings must regroup to face a traditionally highly skilled Clayton squad.
Leah Rodgers (33 goals) and Maggie Gaskins (29) lead an explosive Comet attack that finished 21-5 overall, 10-0 and on top of the 3-A Greater Neuse River Conference.
Clayton has allowed just one goal through three rounds of play, as 12-seed Grays Creek fell to the Comets, 3-1 in the second round.
The winner will face the winner of seven-seed Jacksonville at six-seed East Chapel Hill.
PREDICTION: Conley takes a narrow win and moves into the regional finals.
Contact Jake Keator at email@example.com, 252-329-9594 and follow @JakeKeatorDR on Twitter.