Bears hitting their groove at the plate


Chatham Central softball head coach Drew Hackney is very clear about what his point of emphasis has been with his team this season.

“We just have to keep hitting,” he said. “We just have to keep hitting the ball. That’s been the goal the past two or three years, and that’s what happened last year. We were one hit away last year, but it is what it is.”

The Bears’ 2022 season came to a close in the third round of the state playoffs on the road at Bear Grass Charter. Central lost to the Bears, 5-4, after coming into the game averaging 9.6 runs per game on the season. Over the offseason, Hackney’s team graduated seven seniors, including four (Lindsey Johnson, Gracie Gaines, Taylor Poe and Ashley Roberts) who hit at least .345 at the plate last spring.

But the losses haven’t affected the Central Bears like one might think.

Entering its Tuesday game against Bartlett Yancey, Chatham Central was Chatham County’s only undefeated softball team at 7-0 overall. The Bears have listened to Hackney’s pleas for more offense, and they came into the week averaging 13.0 runs per game and batting .417 as a team.

“I think we’ve done pretty well this year,” senior shortstop Jaylee Williams said. “I started out a little slow, but I’m starting to pick it back up. We’re definitely hitting better than we did at the start of last season, and our pitching is solid, too.”

Williams, an Appalachian State commit, was batting .500 (11-for-22) with six RBI ahead of Tuesday’s game against Bartlett Yancey. Last season, she led the Bears in batting average (.590) and hits (36) while compiling two doubles, two triples and two home runs. All told, Chatham Central has nine players batting at least .350 and seven players with at least six RBI.

The batting title through the team’s first seven games belongs to sophomore Emma Burke, who is hitting 11-for-18 (.611) with 10 RBI in her first varsity season. Both Williams and Hackney highlighted her as a player who has had an impact on the team’s early-season success.

“She’s stepped up a lot,” Hackney said. “She drives in runs. And another girl who has been hitting the ball well is (junior) Cassie (McKeithan). If I can get Mary back to hitting for us, it will be big. She’s a bat we’ve been missing. But Emma and Cassie have hit the ball good. It’s Emma’s first year with us. She can really hit, and she’s a good kid, too. She works hard.”

While they are averaging double-digit runs per game this spring, Chatham Central has also been strong on the mound and on defense. Senior Mary Gaines is 7-0 with a 0.69 ERA and 49 strikeouts over 26 innings pitched this season, and the Bears’ defense has only committed eight errors over their first seven games after totaling 30 in 22 games last year.

One team standing in Central’s way of a second straight Mid-Carolina Conference title this season is Jordan-Matthews, whom Hackney and Williams both pointed out as their stiffest potential competition in the league this year. Through its first six games, the Jets were 4-2 overall and 1-0 in conference play and averaging 7.0 runs per game. The Bears will travel to J-M on March 28 for the first of two regular season meetings this season.

“J-M is really good,” Hackney said. “That game will be a tough game for us. They have a good team. They’re young, too.”

Around the county

Also competing in the Mid-Carolina Conference, Seaforth is off to an 0-4 start to the season and has been outscored by an average of 18.3 runs per game this season. Half of the Hawks’ runs this season have been driven in by freshman Emma Strong.

In the Central Tar Heel 1A Conference, Chatham Charter is off to a 2-0 start to the season entering Thursday’s game against Cornerstone Charter. The Knights have averaged 16.0 runs per game over their first two games and have four players with at least four hits already this season.

Raking at the plate for the Chatham Charter this spring have been seniors Chelsie Hardister and Hallie Edmondson, who have combined to hit 7-for-12 (.583) with 13 RBI. Junior Delana Loflin (3), freshman Taylor Hussey (3), senior Emerson Clark (2), sophomore Ella Ingle (2) and freshman Kynzie Jordan (2) have also driven in runs this season.

Finally, in the Central 3A Conference, Northwood was 4-4 overall and 1-2 in league play entering Tuesday’s game vs. Person. The Chargers have averaged 8.8 runs per game this season but have also allowed their opponents 7.0 runs per game. 

Northwood has six players — junior Sarah Warfford (.632), senior Zoe Hatzidakis (.583), junior Callan Perchinsky (.412), senior Abi McLaurin (.360), senior Carlee Harris (.321) and freshman Allison Bryant (.300) — batting at least .300, and Hatzidakis leads the county with five doubles. 

Sports Editor Jeremy Vernon can be reached at or on Twitter at @jbo_vernon.