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Southwestern Randolph's softball team poses with the trophy for the Western Regionals. The Cougars will meet Midway in the State finals. 

SWR rallies with storybook finish

NEW LONDON — It wasn’t easy. Winning a regional championship in any high school sport rarely is. But how the Southwestern Randolph High School varsity softball team earned the West Regional Championship this past week in a best-of-three series with North Stanly is truly one of storybook finishes.


After dropping the first game in the series by surrendering an unearned run with two outs in the eighth inning, the Cougars staved off elimination with a stunning one-run win in 13 innings in Game 2. Compared to that, Game 3 was a cakewalk.


Macie Crutchfield hurled her fifth shutout of the playoffs, the SWR defense made a number of outstanding plays and Lileigh Payne, Madelyn Smith and Alyssa Harris led an offense that produced a pair of runs in a 2-0 victory last Friday night.


The win earns the fourth-seeded Cougars (21-7) a trip to the 2-A state championship series against Midway (21-3), beginning Friday. The series will be held at either UNCG or Duke University.


Crutchfield continued her stellar pitching by limiting the Comets to just five hits. Instead of her usual high-strikeout total, she relied on her defense, which handled nearly every chance flawlessly.


“I feel amazing,” said Crutchfield, just moments after the Cougars earned their first regional title since 2010. “We had to work our tails off to get to this moment. Our effort was amazing. I am so thankful we got here.”


Crutchfield fanned five, hit two batters and did not walk a hitter.


“I really trust my defense, they made some incredible plays,” Crutchfield said. “I know I didn't have as many strikeouts as I did before, but I tried not to walk any batters or hit batters because those lead to runs.”


As the Cougars celebrated on the field, it was hard not to think back on the final week of the regular season when SWR lost three straight games, including one to Uwharrie Charter Academy for the Piedmont Athletic Conference regular season title.


“We started focusing on not being the best player on the team, but being the best teammate on the team,” SWR coach Toby Strider said. “When you're not worried about who gets the credit and you're worried about the outcome and the end goal, good things will happen. That’s what happened to this group.”


The Cougars, who sidestepped an incredible amount of danger in Game 2 — North Stanly stranded 10 runners in the first six innings and 13 for the game — scored in the third, using what has generated a great deal of their offense: Speed. 


With two outs, Payne used her speed to beat out an infield single and then stole second before advancing all the way around to score when the throw from the catcher sailed into the outfield and split the two outfielders, rolling all the way to the wall. 


Smith’s second hit of the game and a stolen base set up Harris’ RBI single in the sixth for a 2-0 lead.


“Nothing has been as stressful to me as this,” said Smith, who was 6-for-12 in the three-game series. “The only word to describe it is surreal. We are all so emotional because we are so excited. My senior year, this is the best way to leave Southwest.”


There were still some anxious moments to get through. North Stanly, who finished 21-5-1, had two runners on with one out in the sixth, but a 6-4-3 double play ended that threat. The Comets didn’t go quietly, recording a pair of singles in the seventh. But a fly out and strikeout ended the game, pushing the Cougars into the state championship series.


“I have been stressed out this whole week about this,” said freshman left fielder Nautica Parrish, who handled six chances without a problem. “I never lost confidence in Macie. The reason we stayed up with so much energy the whole way was because we were not playing for ourselves. We were playing for each other, our coach and the people who mean the most to us.”


Those people couldn’t be prouder.