‘You don’t realize what you’ve done’: West Chatham 10U Angels win state title, head to World Series this weekend

Posted 7/21/21

CHERRYVILLE — Preston Parks didn’t have many expectations for his first season as a Dixie Youth softball manager, much less championship aspirations.

But as his team — the West Chatham 10U …

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‘You don’t realize what you’ve done’: West Chatham 10U Angels win state title, head to World Series this weekend

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Posted

CHERRYVILLE — Preston Parks didn’t have many expectations for his first season as a Dixie Youth softball manager, much less championship aspirations.

But as his team — the West Chatham 10U Angels, the reigning N.C. state champions as of last week — prepares for the 2021 Dixie Angels X-play Softball World Series in Prince George, Virginia, this weekend, Parks is settling into that same expectation level with hopes that it’ll continue their good fortune.

“I thought we were going to go down to states and get it handed to us, but I guess being so scared of losing made us work even harder,” Parks, who also coaches the Silk Hope team in the West Chatham’s Dixie softball league, said with a laugh. “So, to tell you the truth, I’m just going to go up there [to the World Series] with the same kind of mindset, that they’re just going to beat the crap out of us and we’ll just do everything we can to fight and claw and be as surprised as we were at the state tournament.”

Parks’ Angels — a group of 12 all-star players from around West Chatham — went undefeated (5-0) during their state title run in Cherryville, culminating in an 11-1 mercy-rule win in the championship game against South Brunswick in just three innings on July 13.

West Chatham won five games en route to the title by a combined score of 63-22, including a thrilling 19-14 barn-burner in its third game in what would be the first of two contests against South Brunswick.

West Chatham seized its moment on the state’s biggest stage, winning every game by at least five runs and consistently proving why it deserved to be the champion.

Parks credits his team’s championship performance to three major keys: pitching, hitting and base-running. All of which they excelled at, game after game.

With one of the team’s best pitchers, Ella Parks — Parks’ daughter — going down with a broken ankle on a slide attempt two weeks before the tournament, Parks grew concerned about the depth of his pitching staff before making the trip to Cherryville.

“I told [West Chatham Softball President] Aaron Garner, ‘The whole county has been struggling to pitch all year, I don’t want to go up there and just walk girls around the bases,’” Parks said. “We knew what we were going to get out of [Ellie Lambert, the team’s ace] and she did phenomenal, but it was Lily Poe and Madison Brown that really got us through the tournament with how far they’ve come along.”

Due to required inning limits for pitchers — including one rule that states a pitcher can only throw eight total innings during a double-header — Parks turned to Brown and Poe for games three and four, where they shined as a duo, getting the job done and staving off elimination.

In the third game against South Brunswick, after Brown handled the first two innings, Poe struck out seven batters in the final three innings — including a 1-2-3 scoreless third — to propel her team to the win.

The tandem struck again in the fourth game against Boger City, holding their opponents to three runs and downing five on strikes in a 12-3 victory that solidified their spot in the championship bout.

Thanks to West Chatham’s pitching depth, Lambert had the opportunity to return fresh and well-rested for the title game, where she faced 12 South Brunswick batters in the 11-1 three-inning win, striking out eight and allowing just one runner to cross home plate.

With her on the mound, there was never a doubt.

And as great as the pitching was for most of the tournament, the West Chatham offense was off the charts.

The team was on a tear at the plate, scoring 63 runs in five games, averaging out to a little over 12 runs per game.

The title game against South Brunswick was evidence of that, where West Chatham scored 12 runs in three innings off of the backs of hitters like Ally Rae Rogers (double and triple) and Poe (double), each of whom knocked extra-base hits to add to their team’s lead.

The star of the championship game, however, was Sadie Luther — batting last in the lineup — who powerfully sliced a three-run homer toward the fence in what Parks called one of his favorite moments of the tournament.

“Our girls could hit and we had some in the bottom of the lineup, in particular Sadie Luther from Goldston, she absolutely crushed the ball to the fence in the championship game,” Parks said. “I’ve never seen her hit like that. … I had a parent tell me just today that she got to the dugout and said, ‘Where in the world did that come from?’”

West Chatham’s aggressive base-running — including “a lot” of stolen bases, according to Parks — put pressure on teams throughout the tournament. Not all of their stolen bases were easy passes to second base, though. That wouldn’t have been aggressive enough.

“We did what we had to do to get on base to win the tournament and we told them to get on base at all costs,” Parks said. “We took chances stealing base all week. … We stole home about 8-10 times and got out at home twice, I think,” Parks said.

As instrumental as their talent and skill was to winning the championship, Parks said the players’ ability to handle the moment — laughing and cutting up in the dugout during games, rarely feeling pressure — was the biggest key of them all.

West Chatham’s state tournament run was one that came as a pleasant surprise to both Parks and the rest of the team, but by the time the players were holding up the banner and posing for photos with their gold medals around their necks, Parks’ original fear of losing was an afterthought.

With their showing in Cherryville, this year’s team is officially the first-ever West Chatham 10U softball team to clinch a state title and only the second girls team from any age group to do it.

But their journey is far from over.

The 2021 Dixie Angels X-play World Series begins on this Saturday, July 24, when North Carolina (represented by West Chatham) faces Alabama at 10 a.m. at JEJ Middle School in Prince George County, Virginia.

West Chatham could play as many as six games in four days en route to the World Series title during the double-elimination tournament.

In a bit of good news, Ella Parks is slated to return from her ankle injury for the World Series, while the rest of the team — a successful concoction of players from Bennett, Silk Hope, Pittsboro, North Chatham, Bonlee and Goldston — looks to continue playing with confidence and refusing to shy away from the big moment.

“I don’t know if they’ve realized what they’ve accomplished yet, they’re just such great friends with each other,” Parks said, chuckling. “They think this is just what everybody does. I told them, ‘I’m 37 and I ain’t never won anything in my life,’ and here they are with a state championship. There are people that have fought and tried to do everything in the world to win one and come close and not won one. I said, ‘Y’all did it at 9-10 years old, you don’t realize what you’ve done.’”

West Chatham’s success doesn’t end with the 10U team, however, as the 12U Ponytails finished as the runner-up in the 12U state tournament after a 3-2 performance, with both losses coming to the eventual state champion Hope Mills.

In addition, the West Chatham 8U Darlings won the sportsmanship award at the 8U state tournament, rounding out the three Chatham-based teams that competed last week.

Reporter Victor Hensley can be reached at vhensley@chathamnr.com or on Twitter at @Frezeal33.

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