Lake Norman Publications

Mustangs make history, advance to first softball state championship

The 3A West regional champion East Lincoln Mustangs. /Matt Chapman

DENVER – For the first time in school history the East Lincoln Mustangs will compete for a softball state championship, prevailing 2-1 over Rockingham County in Game 3 of the 3A West regional final Friday night.

“This is a huge accomplishment for this group of girls,” Mustangs head coach Roger Wilson said. “Coming into the season I don’t think anybody thought we’d get to this point. Our pitching has been on point and throughout the year we’ve come up with big hit after big hit.”

Senior captain Betsy Eatmon echoed those sentiments, brimming with excitement after finally breaking through to play for the ultimate prize in her last season at East Lincoln.

“This moment is really special,” she said. “I don’t think a lot of people at the beginning of the season thought we could or would make it this far, so this is very special for us and we’re gonna have some fun next weekend. We’re gonna go out there, play our hearts out and see what happens.”

In what was a closely contested series throughout – the first two games ended in walkoff fashion – Game 3 was no different. The contest remained scoreless entering the bottom of the fifth, but with the top of lineup due up for the Mustangs, East Lincoln seized the opportunity to strike first. 

Sophomore Taniyah Thomas – the author of a pair of game-winning hits in East Lincoln’s third- and fourth-round victories last week – led things off with a walk and eventually stole second, while Eatmon followed two batters later with a one-out walk to set the table for Jaylen Freeston. Freeston delivered the lead for the Mustangs with an RBI single that chased Thomas home from second before passing the baton to Madison Currence, who came through with a run-scoring knock of her own to give East Lincoln a 2-0 edge after five innings. 

From there the outcome rested on the arm of senior pitcher Leah Correll, with six outs standing between the Mustangs and a regional championship. Correll retired the Cougars in order in the sixth, but Rockingham County didn’t go down quietly in the seventh.

Needing a rally to keep their season alive, the Cougars started the top of the seventh with back-to-back singles, matching their hit total from the first six innings. A sacrifice bunt moved both runners into scoring position and, with first base now open and one out, Wilson decided to intentionally walk the next batter to load the bases. 

Despite not even being 24 hours removed from allowing a walk off home run in East Lincoln’s Game 2 loss Thursday, Correll didn’t blink in the most pressure-packed moment of the season. 

“She could have very easily come out tonight and had a mental breakdown,” Wilson said. “After giving up two home runs last night, including the walkoff, and then having to come back out and pitch again tonight. But she came out and really controlled the game from the very first pitch.”

Correll overpowered the number nine batter for a strikeout to notch the second out of the inning, and while a weakly hit but well placed ground ball produced a run to pull the Cougars within one, East Lincoln’s ace delivered another strikeout to end the game and send the Mustangs to the state championship. 

“Leah has grown up tremendously this year,” Wilson said. “She wasn’t really focused at the beginning of the season, but after the Foard game (East Lincoln’s only loss in the regular season) it was like a light switch flipped on. She’s pitched her butt off since then.”

Correll has been especially dominant in the playoffs, pitching every inning of East Lincoln’s seven postseason games thus far. In total she’s allowed just 10 runs over that stretch, which includes three complete-game shutouts. 

“Leah has pitched her absolute heart out,” Eatmon, the team’s catcher, said of her battery mate. “She has been a leader for this team this season and she’s done nothing but be herself and pitch her game. She doesn’t let anything on the outside bother her and she’s a heckuva pitcher.”

The Mustangs (23-2) will take on Western Alamance (22-3) for the 3A state championship. The best-of-three series will begin Friday night, with the time and location to be announced.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *