It’s been a fantastic year for high school softball in the area, and that’s reflected in the 15 teams who earned state playoff bids as the NCHSAA announced brackets Monday. There’s strong belief among many of the squads that this can be the year they break through and make a run at a state championship – or for a select few, add another championship trophy or banner.
With that being said, take a look at the first-round matchups taking place Tuesday:
No. 4 North Lincoln (19-2) vs. No. 29 Bandys (12-12), 7 p.m.
Familiarity breeds contempt, but Bandys is hoping it just brings about a victory. The Trojans will meet their South Fork rival for the third time this season. North Lincoln has won four straight in the series, including a pair of one-run wins this spring. Those were two of just a handful of close finishes for the Knights, who outscored league opposition 151-33 en route to the conference regular-season title.
Bandys has played well of late, winning five of its past eight games. North Lincoln is looking to regroup, however, after being upset in the conference tournament semifinals. The Knights are a perfect 10-0 at home this year, which includes a 9-8 win over the Trojans on April 2.
Next up: Draughn or Hibriten
No. 7 Fred T. Foard (15-5) vs. No. 26 East Rutherford, 6 p.m.
Perhaps more than any other area team, Foard is rolling come state playoff time. Winners of 11 straight, the Tigers captured the Northwestern Foothills 2A Conference outright after Draughn lost on the final day of the regular season. They added the league tournament title to boot and are looking to follow up on a lengthy playoff run from a year ago when they advanced to the regional semifinal before falling to eventual state runner-up Franklin.
East Rutherford finished third in the Southwestern 2A Conference standings behind a pair of title contenders in R-S Central and Chase. The Cavaliers are making their second straight postseason appearance after a one-year hiatus in 2017. They have been held winless in state playoff competition since winning the 2014 2A title.
Next up: Pisgah or West Davidson
No. 11 East Lincoln (15-5) at No. 22 Bunker Hill (10-8), 6 p.m.
These two teams also know one another well, being less than 30 miles apart and having shared a conference together until recently. But East Lincoln and Bunker Hill haven’t met since the first round of the 2017 state playoffs, so it’s only fitting that they square off once again. The Bears will try to snap a three-game losing streak in the series.
The Mustangs finished second in the South Fork regular season to North Lincoln and second in the conference tournament to Maiden. The loss to the Blue Devils was just East Lincoln’s second on its home field this year. Bunker Hill, meanwhile, tied for third in the Northwestern Foothills. Both squads will look to capture some of their playoff magic from a year ago: East Lincoln won a first-round meeting before nearly knocking off Foard, while the Bears advanced all the way to the state semifinals.
Next up: Forbush or Surry Central
No. 13 Draughn (15-5) vs. No. 20 Hibriten (18-6), 6 p.m.
Here we’ve got another state playoff game between conference foes. Draughn had a chance to earn a share of the Northwestern Foothills championship before falling to Bunker Hill in the final game of the regular season. But the Wildcats swept all three games against Hibriten this year in dominant fashion, winning by scores of 12-9, 4-2 and most recently 13-0 in the conference tournament.
The two sides finished a game apart in the regular-season standings, but recent history favors Draughn in this meeting even though Hibriten led the league in runs scored. It might take an offensive onslaught for the Panthers to get through to the second round.
Next up: North Lincoln or Bandys
No. 19 Maiden (17-6) at No. 14 Central Davidson (19-5), 6 p.m.
The Blue Devils are riding a high after a monstrous week that saw them win the South Fork tournament championship after upsetting North Lincoln and then East Lincoln in the final. They appear to be peaking at the perfect time. They’ve won six of seven coming into the state playoffs, including each of their past four games. It could be just what Maiden needs to advance to the second round for the fourth straight year.
The challenge doesn’t come lightly, though. Central Davidson was the runner-up in the Central Carolina 2A Conference behind undefeated North Davidson. The Spartans have had their struggles, however, losing three of the past five leading up to the state tournament.
Next up: North Davidson or West Lincoln
No. 21 Newton-Conover (11-6) at No. 12 Mount Pleasant (12-5), 6 p.m.
One of six teams to earn a bid from the South Fork, Newton-Conover hasn’t played as many games as most other teams to make the state tournament. That’s no bother to the Red Devils, who have just their second winning season in the past eight years. If anything, the challenging conference has prepared them for their first state appearance since 2016.
Mount Pleasant comes in as the Rocky River 2A runner-up behind undefeated and top-seeded West Stanly. The Tigers haven’t been tested in league play the way Newton-Conover was, though. They’ve also taken a beating – scratch that, three beatings – by West Stanly over the past few weeks.
Next up: Madison or Forest Hills
Other area playoff games:
No. 30 West Lincoln (9-12) at No. 3 North Davidson (24-0)
No. 32 West Iredell (6-9) at No. 1 West Stanly (20-0)
No. 6 Alexander Central (18-6) vs. No. 27 Stuart Cramer (16-8), 7 p.m.
The more things change, the more they stay the same, at least in Taylorsville. Alexander Central won its 10th state title last season to send coach Darrell Adkins out on a high note. But Kylie Hamby picked up right where Adkins left off and has the Cougars primed to defend their championship this time around. Alexander Central finished second behind South Caldwell in the Northwestern 3A/4A Conference but got the league’s top 3A bid. Of the Cougars’ six losses, three have come at the hands of the Spartans.
Stuart Cramer is no slouch either. The Storm finished fourth in the Big South 3A Conference, which also played some quality softball this spring. They also outscored Alexander Central on the season 220-211. They’ve allowed 50 more runs, however, which could be their downfall against the Cougars.
Next up: Parkwood or Enka
Other area playoff games:
No. 29 Watauga (10-10) at No. 4 Crest (24-1)
No. 5 South Caldwell (18-3) – BYE
Last year’s 4A state runner-up will once again be among the favorites to make it to the championship series. The Spartans have been on a mission this year after watching the state title slip out of their hands a season ago. They torched through the Northwestern 3A/4A Conference schedule, going a perfect 14-0 and adding the tournament title. Those two goals complete, they now turn their focus on the championship that eluded them in Raleigh.
South Caldwell has won 20 or more games in each of coach Casey Justice’s first five seasons. The Spartans will need to make the fourth round to reach that pinnacle again, but that seems more than likely given how they’ve been dominating in recent weeks.
Next up: Page or Glenn
Other area playoff games:
No. 23 McDowell (11-11) at No. 10 Lake Norman (18-7)