Dan Finnerty – Sportswriter
The Lady Panthers’ stellar season ended Saturday, May 13, at Macon Middle School in the North Carolina High School Athletic Association’s (NCHSAA) Softball Playoffs 3A.
Following a dominating regular season in which the Lady Panthers won 15 consecutive games, and fresh off their 11-1 defeat of North Buncombe, May 9, #3 seeded FHS hosted their second-round game against West Henderson. After winning both regular season games against the Lady Falcons, it quickly became evident this game would be different. The score was already 10-1, Falcons, when rain caused a halt to play on Friday night. Kendall Rumans started the game as pitcher but faltered against the hitting attack put up by West Henderson. She was replaced by Meyaeh Tran, who fared little better and appeared to injure her leg by the time play was halted. When the game resumed on Saturday, little changed and FHS found itself on the losing end of an 11-1 final.
With all-around great play from Rumans, and most of the team due back next year, things are looking up for Lady Panther softball in 2024. Seniors Mya Crisp, Tori Ensley, Abby Carpenter, and Tessa Dehart will graduate and head on to their next chapter.
FHS’ baseball season came to an end at West Rowan May 9 with a 2-0 loss to the Falcons in the 2023 NCHSAA Baseball Championships 3A first round game. The Panthers only managed three hits, with senior Davis Anders getting two of them and junior Jaden Rogers one. Each player also had an extra-base hit (double). The Panthers’ final 2023 record stands at 11-10, 7-1 in the Mountain Seven Conference, where they finished third, behind West Henderson and Tuscola. Four seniors will be departing the team before next year: Anders, Caleb Cloer, Ben Waldroop, and J.J. Postell.
FHS competed in the West Regionals Duals Tournament May 8 at Atkins High School, in Winston-Salem. While they lost 5-4, Head Coach Sammy Gunter put a positive spin on the outcome.
“Overall, this was a good effort from all the guys whether they won or lost as the Atkins bunch is a solid and talented team. The guys were disappointed with the loss but encouraged, as they realized how close they are to reaching the next level. Looking forward to next season,” said Coach Gunter.
It was another long road trip to play the fifth-seeded Atkins and it turned out to be a dogfight, according to Gunter. In the match, #1 singles player, Jack Sgro won 6-3, 6-3. Second-seeded Mica Jacobs also won, 2-6, 6-2 (10-8). Gavin Rinker, Orrin Mynes, Conner Baldwin, and Eli Adams all lost their matches. In doubles, Sgro and Jacobs won 8-2 and Will Sinclair/Mynes also won 8-2, but Rinker and Adams lost.
“Jack was able to pull out a good win by mixing heavy ground strokes with chips and slices to eventually overpower his extremely quick opponent. Mica got outplayed from the baseline but responded in the second set by serving and volleying more to the backhand side and making his Camel (Atkins mascot) opponent run more, creating an open court for Mica’s 2nd volley,” said Gunter. The coach also pointed out that in a losing effort, Baldwin played well and had a chance to go up 5-4 on his serve but could not produce enough quality shots against his experienced opponent and eventually lost the set 4-6.
In doubles, Sgro/Jacobs continued by maneuvering more adeptly and playing smarter shots to pick apart the Atkins duo. Mynes and Sinclair were more consistent from the ground and at the net, and eventually pulled away to seal the victory at 8-6.
Later in the week, on Friday, May 12, Sgro and Jacobs also competed at Burlington in the state individual tournament. They were seeded third and drew the number two team from Carrboro, who were both seniors. Franklin lost 6-0, 6-1. In the match, Gunter admitted the biggest difference as “we could not return their lefty server who continued to jam us with the big slice into the body, which made it difficult to hit a clean response – or even keep the ball in play.” He concluded, “Jack and Mica, though disappointed in the outcome, are already making plans this summer to close the gap to reach the next level.”
Track and Field
With State Championships in Greensboro on Friday, May 19, looming, FHS Coach Matt Harlfinger commented, “a lot of good things happened,” following the 3A West Regionals at Lincolnton, Saturday, May 13. “We performed well enough in a lot of areas to have team success, and when the team wins, everyone wins.”
Numerous Panthers also achieved personal records that placed them in the all-time top-10 for FHS and helped qualification for State.
In the girls 4X100 meter(m) relay, Michelle Ortega, Laura Covarrubias, Hope Smith, and Isabelle Duchemin broke the school record set in 2009, with a new time of 49.43, which has them ranked third heading into the State Meet. Elijah Cochran broke his own school record in the 110m hurdles with a new mark of 15.25 and Covarrubias ran the second fastest 300m hurdles time in school history (45.11) She is ranked #2 in the state heading into the meet.
Cal Drake posted the second-best mark in school history in the boys’ triple jump with a 43-07 and the 4x400m relay team of Cochran, Isaiah Roots, Drake, and Justin Rodriguez ran a 3:24.24, missing the school record set in 1994 by .12. The team is currently ranked third overall in 3A. Roots ran the #2 time in school history in the 400m dash with 49.07, which has him ranked second in 3A heading into the next round.
The boys’ 4x200m relay team, with Cochran, Roots, Rodriguez, and Braxton Deal, ran the second-best time in school history (1:29.42), missing the school record by .5 seconds and they are ranked 6th heading into the State meet.
The girls 4x200m with Ortega, Maddie Holden, Covarrubias, and Isabelle Duchemin ran the 5th fastest time in school history (1:47.63) and the girls 4x800m team of Amy Mendoza Lopez, Abigail Pope, Rylee Cassada, and Hope Smith, ran 10:05, which is the fifth fastest time in school history and ranks fourth in 3A heading into the State meet. Pope and Lopez also ran the seventh and ninth best times in FHS history in the 800 and 1600, respectively.
On the girls’ side, the following teams and individuals advanced to the state meet:
4x800m, 4x200m, and 4x100m relay teams; Covarrubias in the 300m hurdles and long jump, Duchemin in the 100m hurdles, Addison Coker in the triple jump, Boston Stringer in the pole vault, and Charley Seagle in the shot put.
A point of note is West Henderson’s girls won the state meet last year with six scoring spots – FHS has nine this year.
On the boys’ side, the following advanced: 4x200m, 4x400m, and 4x800m relay teams, and Drake in the high jump and triple jump. Blake Cassada, Adam Rogers, and Aaron Jennings all advanced for the pole vault; Seth Brewer in the shot put, Roots in the 400m, Logan Russo in the 800m and 1600m, and Cochran in the 110 and 300m hurdles. The boys will have 14 opportunities to score, with 11 of them being ranked in the top eight (top 8 score points for the school). FHS has the third most boys competing in the state competition – behind Dudley (17) and Croatan (16) high schools – but FHS has the most ranked in the top eight.
Harlfinger implored all those tracking the team’s progress this year, “Please cheer us along as we try and finish this thing out. It has been a very special year for these kids. Let’s finish strong! State meet is in five days.”
Since last September the teams’ achievements have racked up including: Boys Indoor State Champions, Girls Indoor State Runner-Up, Boys and Girls Mountain Seven Champions in Outdoor Track, and Boys and Girls Region 3A West Champions.
For those seeking information on this weekend’s State Meet, hotel accommodations can be found with Hilton Garden Inn Greensboro Airport, located at 238 NC Highway 68 South Airport at PAI Park Greensboro. Harlfinger also posted that links to information is also posted on his Facebook page.