PILOT MOUNTAIN — Six bright red banners hang from the outfield fence at East Surry High School’s softball field. The last one proclaims that the Lady Cardinals won the state championship six years ago.
That was also the last time that East Surry got past North Stokes for the championship of the Northwest 1A Conference. Or at least it was until Wednesday evening.
The Lady Cardinals returned to the league’s throne room for the first time in six years, and clinched the outright NW1A title with a 10-0 rout of visiting Atkins. The win improved East Surry to 9-0 in conference play, and assured that North Stokes, which lost both its meetings with the Lady Cardinals this season, will have to settle for second place.
“It feels good to finally know that it’s truly ours,” said East Surry head coach Randy Marion. “It’s been a long time since the championship was ours. We’re very proud to be the conference champions this year.
East Surry (19-3 overall) had already clinched no worse than a co-championship and the No. 1 playoff seed from the conference when it beat Mount Airy 12 days earlier. However, head coach Randy Marion and the team chose not to celebrate the championship until they had secured it outright. Nothing much was said about the championship until the team came into the postgame huddle, where Marion congratulated the team on its achievement. However, it’s clear that the real goal for East Surry is the other championship that the school last won six years ago.
“I hope it’s a good sign, but we’re going to have to keep playing and we’ll have to beat some good teams,” said Marion, whose team remains ranked No. 2 in the state’s 1A ranks despite a flat performance in a 1-0 loss at East Wilkes on Saturday. “We’re just taking it one game at a time, and we’ve got Mount Airy tomorrow.
“I’ve told the girls all year to ‘be where your feet are,’” added Marion. “Your feet are out here today, think about this game today, not the game down the road.”
On Wednesday, East Surry came out with fire in its bellies and battered the Camels for six runs in the bottom of the first inning, all of it earned. Bethany Clayton bunted for a single on the game’s first pitch, immediately stole second base, and raced to third when the catcher’s throw got away from the shortstop. Morgan Smith singled to center and put the Lady Cardinals on the board. Singles by Autumn Lawson, Allie Bruner and Maggie Holt followed as East Surry increased its lead to 3-0. The fourth run of the inning scored on a wild pitch, and Kelsey Heflin lined a ball down the third-base line for a double and a 5-0 lead. Anna-Kate Badgett’s double into the left-center gap drove in Heflin for the final run of the inning.
That was more than enough for East Surry. Lawson started the game for the Lady Cardinals, but left after two perfect innings with an 8-0 lead, having struck out five of the six batters she faced. Heflin came on and worked the last three frames of what became a combined no-hitter.
“I just wanted Autumn to throw a little bit,” said Marion. “She’s been in a groove lately, and I just wanted her to stay loose and then bring someone else in.”
Smith and Lawson both reached base and scored in the bottom half of the second inning after another hit by Bruner. Lawson, Bruner and Smith all checked out after that half-inning, but the Lady Cardinals added their ninth run in the third, when Badgett singled and scored on an error, and their 10th run in the last of the fourth, when Ally McCraw singled, advanced to second on a passed ball, and then scored on a single by Maggie Holt.
In her three innings of work on the mound, Heflin struck out five and walked three.
The Lady Cardinals will travel to Mount Airy tomorrow for the regular-season finale.