Three area teams hoping to secure a berth in the NCHSAA state championship
And then there were three. New Hanover baseball along with Hoggard softball and girls soccer are the final area teams still playing. All three have reached the NCHSAA East final. Here is a preview of all three matchups.
No. 1 New Hanover (24-1) vs. No. 2 D.H. Conley (25-3)
NCHSAA 3A East Regional championship series
Game 1: Tuesday at Buck Hardee Field, 7 p.m.
Game 2: Thursday at D.H. Conley, 7 p.m.
Game 3 (if necessary): Saturday at Buck Hardee Field, 7 p.m.
How they got here
No. 1 New Hanover 9, No. 32 Union Pines 0
No. 2 D.H. Conley 14, Eastern Alamance 1 (5 innings)
No. 1 New Hanover 10, No. 16 Gray’s Creek 0 (5 innings)
No. 2 D.H. Conley 6, No. 16 Greenville Rose 3
No. 1 New Hanover 7, No. 8 Southeast Guilford 1
No. 2 D.H. Conley 3, No. 7 Jacksonville 0
No. 1 New Hanover 8, No. 4 Terry Sanford 1
No. 2 D.H. Conley 9, No. 3 Fike 5
A look at the series
Twenty five years after earning its second straight 4A state championship, New Hanover is looking to repeat again.
The Wildcats swept Crest in last year’s 3A series and now hope to return back to the state championship series for a third straight season. New Hanover claimed back-to-back titles in 1956-57 and then again in 1993-94.
It’s been a dominant run through the postseason this year thanks in large part to the pitching performances from seniors Blake Walston (12-0, 0.23 ERA, 120 strikeouts in 61 2/3 innings) and Alex Sniffen (8-0, 0.26 ERA, 71 strikeouts in 54 innings). The duo has combined to allow only one run on seven hits with 30 strikeouts in 22 innings.In Tuesday’s 7-1 victory over Southeast Guilford, Walston pitched six shutout innings with 10 strikeouts. Sniffen dominated a talented Terry Sanford lineup in the fourth round on Friday, allowing only one run on five hits while striking out eight in a complete game.
New Hanover’s offense has been just as good, averaging 8.5 runs in four playoff victories. The top four hitters – Jac Croom, Walston, Kyle Smith and Sniffen – are hitting a combined .472 with eight walks, four doubles, three home runs, 16 RBI and 18 runs so far in the postseason. Croom and Walston are both 7-for-13, while Smith is 6-for-14 and Sniffen is 5-for-13.
D.H. Conley is in unfamiliar territory. The Vikings haven’t been in the East final since 2013, when they beat Orange in three games before falling to Weddington in three games in the 3A state championship series.
Like New Hanover, D.H. Conley has a pair of talented starting pitchers in UNCG signee Robbie O’Neal (4-0, 2.66 ERA, 49 strikeouts in 29 innings) and freshman UNC commit Matt Matthijs (9-0, 1.50 ERA, 76 strikeouts in 46 2/3 innings). The Vikings also have a dominant closer in Pitt Community College signee Mitchell Hofler (4-1, 6 saves, 1.08 ERA, 57 strikeouts in 32 1/3 innings).
D.H. Conley has collected 30 hits in four postseason victories, including five a piece from junior Jack Carlyle and senior Josh McCarter. The offense is lead by center fielder and Pitt CC signee Cam Jackson, who enters the series hitting .511 with 10 doubles, nine home runs, 34 RBI, 51 runs and 13 stolen bases on the season.
Another Pitt CC signee, Shea Ward, has a .357 average with five doubles, eight home runs and 32 RBI. O’Neal also produces at the plate. He is hitting .354 with seven doubles, one triple, four home runs, 33 RBI and 25 runs.
The Vikings have been successful stealing bases this year, going 68-for-74.
No. 2 Heritage (19-2) vs. No. 4 Hoggard (17-7)
NCHSAA 4A East Regional championship series
Game 1: Tuesday at Heritage, 6 p.m.
Game 2: Thursday at Hoggard, 6 p.m.
Game 3 (if necessary): Friday at Heritage, 7 p.m.
How they got here
No. 2 Heritage bye
No. 4 Hoggard bye
No. 2 Heritage 4, No. 15 Purnell Swett 3
No. 4 Hoggard 4, No. 13 Lumberton 3
No. 2 Heritage 12, No. 23 Apex Friendship 2 (5 innings)
No. 4 Hoggard 6, No. 5 South View 4
No. 2 Heritage 4, No. 3 Holly Springs 0
No. 4 Hoggard 5, No. 1 South Central 0
A look at the series
After squeaking out second round victories, both teams have put together back-to-back solid performances to reach the East final.
Neither team has ever won a state title, although Hoggard has reached the championship twice. In 1998, the Vikings lost in three games to Olympic when the sport was still slow pitch. They reached the fast pitch title game in 2001 only to suffer a heartbreaking 1-0 loss to Butler.
If Hoggard is going to get back, it’s going to have to get a few more dominant pitching performances from senior Jesse Mathis, who enters with a 17-7 record, 1.53 ERA and 245 strikeouts in 151 1/3 innings. Through three playoff games, Mathis has allowed only four earned runs on 14 hits with 25 strikeouts in 21 innings.The Vikings have done a nice job providing her with run support and the catalyst has been sophomore shortstop Icess Tresvik. The leadoff hitter is 6-for-10 with two walks, two home runs, one double, five RBI and six runs in the postseason.
Mathis has helped herself out at the plate by hitting .500 (4-for-8) with two walks, three doubles and two RBI in wins over Lumberton, South View and South Central. Skyler Walker has also had at least one hit all three victories, including a pair in the fourth round.
Heritage is a veteran team that enters with a 19-2 record, including a 13-0 mark at home. Their only losses came at Middle Creek (3-2 on March 5) and at Wake Forest (14-11 on April 25).
UNCG signee Ashley Gontram has been a tough out all season. She enters the series hitting .531 and has an on-base percentage of .622. The shortstop has seven doubles, one triple, nine home runs and 27 RBI. She is also 19-for-19 in stolen base attempts.
Through three playoff games, the Huskies have six extra-base hits and 12 stolen bases.
Junior Kennedy Priest, a Maine commit, enters the series hitting .397 with nine doubles, one triple and 13 stolen bases. Cydney Johnson, who will play basketball at High Point, has a .391 average with four doubles, two home runs, 12 stolen bases and 20 RBI.
Heritage has a pair of reliable pitchers in Campbell signee Georgeanna Barefoot (9-1, 1.81 ERA, 110 strikeouts in 73 2/3 innings) and junior Lees-McRae commit Raygan Rensing (10-1, 1.40 ERA, 61 strikeouts in 55 innings).
Barefoot has thrown 14 innings in the postseason and has allowed two earned runs on 13 hits with 13 strikeouts. Rensing allowed one earned run on four hits with a pair of strikeouts in the five-inning victory over Apex Friendship in the third round.
No. 1 Hoggard (24-2) vs. No. 3 Heritage (18-3)
NCHSAA 4A East final
Tuesday at Hoggard, 6 p.m.
How they got here
No. 1 Hoggard bye
No. 3 Heritage bye
No. 1 Hoggard 2, No. 17 Cardinal Gibbons 0
No. 3 Heritage 2, No. 14 Broughton 0
No. 1 Hoggard 1, No. 8 Laney 0
No. 3 Heritage 1, No. 11 Millbrook 0
No. 1 Hoggard 3, No. 20 Apex 0
No. 3 Heritage 2, No. 2 Leesville Road 0
A look at Tuesday’s match
For the third time in five seasons, Hoggard is back in the 4A East final. The last two trips haven’t been kind to the Vikings as they suffered a 2-0 loss at Cardinal Gibbons in 2017 and a 2-1 loss at Panther Creek in 20015.
Perhaps playing at Scott Braswell Stadium will be the winning formula. Hoggard is 14-0 at home this year and has outscored its opponents 52-3 in those matches. The Vikings have only allowed a total of eight goals all season and none so far in three postseason victories.
Senior Erin Willis scored her 33rd goal of the season in Friday’s fourth round win over Apex. The forward also has 23 assists on the season. Joining her up top is sophomore Ainsley Norr, who has scored the game-winner in each of the past two games. Norr enters the match with 27 goals and 24 assists.Senior goalkeeper and Lenoir-Rhyne signee Blair Barefoot has allowed only three goals all season over 1,155 minutes. She has stopped all seven shots she’s faced in the playoffs.
Heritage will enter with some confidence due to its 2-1 early-season victory over Hoggard on March 1 at the Battle at the Beach in Onlsow County.
Senior Mississippi signee Fain Buete and sophomore Aryn Cimmerer each found the back of the net in the win. The game was scoreless at the half.
The Huskies have 74 goals from 19 different players. Appalachian State signee Hayley Boyles leads the way with 19 goals and 11 assists. Bri Holt enters with nine goals and nine assists, while Buete has scored eight goals and dished out eight assists this season.
Both teams are still searching for the first state championship in program history. Hoggard lost in penalty kicks to North Mecklenburg in 2010 and Heritage has never played in the title game.