WAXHAW – Senior Riley Tucker and freshman Brantleigh Parrott have been linked all season because of their excellence as pitchers for the Central Cabarrus Vikings softball team.
On Friday, the two showed how much impact they can have at the plate as well. Tucker and Parrott each had four hits to lead the Vikings to an 11-8 victory over Marvin Ridge, giving Central its first trip to the state finals since 2005.
That year, the Vikings won the Class 4A state championship.
The Vikings (26-4), now a 3A program, became the Western Regional champions Friday by winning the best-of-3 series against Marvin Ridge, 2-1. They’ll face Eastern Alamance at N.C. Carolina State University, with Game 1 of the series starting Friday.
And the Vikings got to the state championship series by beating the region’s No. 1 seed on its home field twice in a four-day span.
“(Marvin Ridge) is the No. 2 ranked team in the state, so to come out here and beat them two times speaks volumes for our program,” Vikings coach Charlie Blackwelder said.
Before the start of Game 3, the storyline was Blackwelder’s decision to replace Parrott in the circle with Tucker, last season’s South Piedmont 3A Conference Pitcher of the Year. Parrott replaced Tucker as the Vikings’ primary starter two months ago and has been excellent for most of the season.
But the Mavericks (20-5) saw their offense wake up late in their 5-2 victory over the Vikings in Game 2, and Blackwelder made the change for the biggest game of the season.
“(Parrott) called me early this morning and told me her arm was sore, so we made the decision to start Riley,” Blackwelder said. “We had all the confidence in the world in Riley.”
The theme of the day quickly shifted to the offense, as the Vikings’ bats -- shut down to the tune of just four hits in their Game 2 loss on Thursday -- wasted no time getting started. The Vikings scored twice in the first inning and five times in the second to take a 7-0 lead.
“It was really important to get the runs early, because it really pumped us up,” Parrott said of the Vikings’ rallies in the first and second innings. “And we were able to stay pumped up the rest of the game.”
Parrott had a two-run double to highlight the five-run second, but senior Destiny Thornton was also a major factor in both the first and second innings. Thornton drove in a run in the first inning and had two more RBIs with a single in the second.
“(Offense) was our focus, honestly,” Thornton said. “We knew we didn’t hit well (Thursday), and we were all kind of down about it.”
The offense wasn’t limited to the Vikings, however, as the Mavericks quickly got back in the game. A two-run home run by Taylor Walker got Marvin Ridge on the scoreboard in the third inning. And after the Mavericks scored twice more in the fourth, suddenly a 7-0 Central lead became a 7-4 ballgame.
Central Cabarrus responded in the fifth inning with four runs to take a seemingly comfortable 11-4 lead. Parrott’s two-run triple and an RBI single by Tucker were the big hits of the inning, giving the Vikings another seven-run cushion.
But once again, the Mavericks responded, this time scoring three times in the bottom of the fifth and once more in the sixth on a solo home run from Mauri Murray.
“I’m not going to lie: I was not comfortable the entire game,” Tucker said. “I knew their lineup could hit top to bottom. And I needed to keep my pitches down. When they hit those home runs, I missed my spot and was up on my pitches.
“But I said to myself that I was just going to give it all I’ve got,” Tucker added. “We were not going to lose this game.”
Tucker and the Vikings held on to their lead all the way to the bottom of the seventh inning. But when the Mavericks opened the inning with a single, Blackwelder went out and replaced Tucker with Parrott, putting the freshmen in charge of getting the final three outs of the game.
“Our defense was wonderful today, and Riley did a great job pitching,” Parrott said. “So when I came in, I just had to work my way through it and get us to the states.”
Parrott did that by retiring three of the four batters she faced, including a strikeout for the final out of the game.
Blackwelder, who a few weeks ago said this was the best team he’s coached, said togetherness went a long way with this ball club.
“The reason this was my best team is because we play for each other,” Blackwelder said. “We may not be the most talented team, but we’re the most together team.”
Central Cabarrus 250 040 0 – 11 14 2
Marvin Ridge 002 231 0 – 8 14 1
Central Cabarrus hits – Brantleigh Parrott (4), Riley Tucker (4), Destiny Thornton, Christina Brendle (2), Aniyah Tate (2), Jenna Endsley
Marvin Ridge hits – Ally Bigham (3), Taylor Walker (3), Jessica Davis (2), Mauri Murray, Jaedyn Depollo (2), Katriel Williams (2), Kelly Dobos
Central Cabarrus RBIs – Brantleigh Parrott (4), Riley Tucker, Destiny Thornton (3), Christina Brendle
Marvin Ridge RBIs – Ally Bigham, Gabby Baylog, Taylor Walker (2), Mauri Murray, Katriel Williams (2), Kelly Dobos
WP: Riley Tucker (6.1 IP, 8 R, 8 ER, 14 H, 1 BB, 4 K)
LP: Gabby Baylog (7 IP, 11 R, 9 ER, 14 H, 0 BB, 7 K)