Strong in the field

SAMANTHA CARTER, one of five East Wilkes seniors, finished the spring with a .944 fielding percentage while playing right field.

Lauren Rakes enjoyed yet another absolutely ridiculous statistical season for the East Wilkes softball team in 2019.

At the plate and in the circle, Rakes dominated the competition and led the Cardinals to another successful season.

Unfortunately for Head Coach Derrick Hill and the Cardinals’ faithful, 2019 was her senior season, and Rakes will be taking her talents to Hickory next year as a member of the Lenoir-Rhyne Bears.

“She’s a legitimate five-tool player,” said Hill, who just completed his fourth season in Ronda.

“You just don’t see that type of player come along every day. She’ll be phenomenal at Lenoir-Rhyne,” continued Hill. “This season, if you made a mistake against her at the plate she’d send the ball to the parking lot. And if you walked her, she’d steal second and get herself home anytime we put the bat on the ball.”

But Rakes, who batted .534 with nine home runs, 29 RBIs and 37 walks, was but one member of a dominant senior class that helped the Cards improve from a .500 record as freshmen to a mark of 17-8 overall and 11-3 in the Mountain Valley Athletic Conference this spring.

Outfielder Samantha Carter (.944 fielding percentage), pitcher/infielder Lyric Ryan (19 runs, 16 RBIs), pitcher/infielder Alexis Lester (1.37 earned run average, .338) and steady catcher Jenna Bullard also ended their careers this spring and all four were integral to the Cardinals’ sustained success.

Ryan, a Piedmont International University-signee, was a North Carolina Soccer Coaches Association all-district selection. Lester and Bullard will also play softball at the collegiate level, signing with Guilford College and Surry Community College, respectively, last fall.

“All five of those kids were either all-conference or all-conference honorable mention selections this season,” said Hill. “They were great players the entire time they played for us, obviously, but they really seemed to come together as seniors. The leadership they showed this season for the younger kids, in addition to what they did on the field game in and game out, was a big factor for us.

“And they came here the same year I did,” continued Hill, “and really bought in to the things we wanted to establish as a program. I just can’t say enough about how proud I am of how they stayed together and played together and improved the team every season.”

East’s 11-3 conference record was the best mark of the past four campaigns. And it ended in the third round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 1A playoffs to the eventual state champion, North Stokes.

That third-round contest, held in Danbury, ended up 4-2 in eight innings and represented as stiff a challenge as the Vikings would face in their title run.

“Going into that game we figured they probably hadn’t seen a pitcher the caliber of Lauren,” Hill said of Rakes, who finished the season in the circle with an ERA of 0.84, 228 strikeouts and 15 wins. “And sure enough, we were up 2-1 in the seventh. We had them on the ropes. But they found a way to get a run across in the seventh to tie it up, and won it in the next inning.”

When asked if he had thought about the Cardinals’ chances of claiming a state title if the third round had turned out differently, Hill chuckled, “Oh, yeah. Multiple times, believe me.”

Hill continued, “We were told by a lot of folks we couldn’t beat North Stokes. And we were two plays away from proving everybody wrong. But I was as proud of that group as any team I’ve ever had. They were 1,000 percent invested that night.”

While the five seniors will leave big shoes to fill in Ronda, the cupboard will not be bare. The rising senior class includes Alexis Caudill, Krysta Prevette and Kaybree Martin. Prevette and Martin were mainstays in Hill’s line-up, combining for 23 runs and 14 RBIs.

The rising junior class will feature Maci Reynolds, Danyelle Carroll, Haley Martin, Alexa Carter and Madison Holbrook. Carter, a NCSCA all-district selection, batted .263 with 15 RBIs while playing in all 25 contests.

Three rising sophomores helped the varsity last spring, led by Macie Bell. Bell was one of only three Cardinals to hit a home run (in addition to Rakes and Martin) and added 16 runs. Jaymee Waddell and Anna Pardue will also return.

“I loved this group to death and those seniors definitely saved their best efforts for last,” said Hill. “But I also love the kids coming back, and the ability we’ll have on the field. We’re going to try again next year to make the same kind of run we did this season.”

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