MOORESVILLE—Mooresville head coach Paul Kitka stood in the middle of a circle formed by his team looking around at each of the girls. Suddenly, he grabbed a neon green plastic fedora from one of them and began to dance.
The girls erupted in cheers and laughter.
The impromptu dance from their coach was a reward for accomplishing the first of their many goals this season: claiming the conference regular season championship.
The Blue Devils (19-3, 10-2) travelled over I-77 for a winner-take-all matchup with their arch-rival, Lake Norman (16-3, 9-3), that they not only won 5-0, they dominated, shutting out a Wildcat offense that averaged over six runs per game on their home field.
“We earned that win tonight,” Kitka said. “We knew were going to be in for a battle tonight. That one felt really good.”
The good feelings started in the early going for the Blue Devils. After Emily Murphey drew a five-pitch walk to start the second, she was driven home by Emily Dudley three batters later. The very next batter, Avrelle Harrell crushed a line drive to right-center field for a double, scoring Dudley from first to give Mooresville a 2-0 lead.
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The Mooresville picked up right where they left off in the third inning, with Ellie Goins sending a double off the wall in right-center to score Brooke Piper from first base. Goins would cross home plate two batters later on a sacrifice fly sent to right field by Murphey to put the Blue Devils on top 4-0 before Lake Norman even got a chance to cycle through their entire lineup.
“We’ve been hitting the ball really well lately,” Kitka said. “That’s a good team, and a good pitcher, over there and we did our job tonight.”
Over their previous four games, the Blue Devil offense had come alive, scoring at least eight runs in four straight games. However, they were faced with the tall task of continuing that streak against Wildcats’ pitcher Linda Moore. The Lake Norman ace entered the game with a record of 12-2 and an earned run average of 1.72.
Mooresville tagged her for seven hits and drew five walks and never let her get comfortable in the circle.
“She struggled tonight,” Lake Norman head coach Tommy Strahan said. “She’s been dealing with injuries all season long, but I just wasn’t ready to throw my freshman pitcher against a team like Mooresville just yet.”
According to Strahan, Moore has both a pulled groin and a hip flexor injury. The pain in her groin had flared up so bad before her start against Mooresville that she took an ice bath prior to the game in an effort to get the swelling down.
The Wildcats’ offense didn’t fair much better. Coming into the game, the team averaged over 12 hits per game. Mooresville pitcher Cambell Schaen held them to just four and allowed just seven Wildcats to even reach base during the course of the game.
“Nothing fazes (Campbell),” Kitka said. “She always does her job. She was fantastic tonight.”
Behind Schaen, the Blue Devil defense shined, particularly in the middle of the infield. Goins, the shortstop, and second baseman Lauren Vanderpool made numerous spectacular plays to keep Lake Norman off the basepaths.
“Nothing got by (Goins) tonight,” Kitka said. “She made some D1 plays out there.”
For the Wildcats, the loss not only robs them of the regular season conference title, but it drops them to third place behind Hickory Ridge, who accounted for the only other losses on Lake Norman’s schedule, sweeping them in conference play.
“You could tell (the girls) were upset. They knew they had a chance to win a conference title tonight and let it slip away,” Strahan said. “I told them after the game that we have to work outside of practice. Some of the girls aren’t doing that and it shows in the game.”
By dropping to the 3-seed in the conference tournament, the Wildcats will face the 6-seed Cox Mill in the first round on Monday night. Mooresville, as the top seed, will have a bye to the second round where they will face the winner of West Cabarrus and A.L. Brown.