Orange’s Andrews signs with Catawba Valley softball

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Updated: April 8, 2020

“I bet it’s going to come to me, knowing my luck.”

That was running through Grace Andrews’ head as she stared at a crowded grandstand at N.C. State’s Doak Field.

She wanted to be wrong because there was a state championship riding in the balance.

She wasn’t.

Andrews was a freshman playing 2nd base, which wasn’t even her standard position through her young career. The Orange softball team led Piedmont 4-1 in game two of the 3A State Softball Championships on June 3, 2017. The Lady Panthers were one out away from becoming the first women’s team in school history to win a state championship.

It was already so hot that Orange pitcher Christina Givens got lightheaded in the middle innings. She had to receive carbonated drinks and breath mints from Orange trainer Emily Gaddy in the dugout to finish the game.

Sure enough, the final out rolled Andrews way, and when she calmly touched second base, it set off a raucous celebration.

“It was so hot,” Andrews said. “But it worked out. I think about that team a lot. It was the most talented team I’ve been on. I wish I could have played with them longer and so many of them didn’t graduate right after that.”

Four years after that climatic finish, Andrews is winding down her high school career in the meekest way imaginable. With the hiatus caused by the coronavirus pandemic, her senior season has likely ended after only four games.

After starting for four years on the softball team, a ceremony to celebrate Andrews signing with a college team is richly deserved and standard. Of course, these are not standard times. School has been closed across Orange County since March 16.

Instead of a lunchtime gathering inside Orange High Gymnasium with hundreds of her schoolmates, coaches and teachers on hand, Andrews held a quaint ceremony to sign with Hickory’s Catawba Valley Community College at her family’s home last week. On hand was her father, Chris, her mother, Jeanne Stroud and her husband, Hal, along with grandfather Dennis and Orange assistant coaches Tonya Daye and Jennifer Batts.

It was an adjustment to benefit the greater good, something that has become customary for Andrews.

As a middle schooler on Barnes’ summer travel team, Andrews played catcher and first base. When she moved up to Orange in 2016, Panthers Coach Eddie Davidson wanted her in the starting lineup immediately, even if it meant rearranging his infield.

Andrews’ fellow freshman, Jaden Hurdle, was already penciled in at 1st base. Knowing that Andrews would be comfortable on the right side of the infield, Davidson asked senior 2nd baseman Abby Hamlett to move to shortstop so Andrews could be a regular starter.

Hamlett agreed.

“It made me really nervous,” Andrews said. “I didn’t know if I was going to do good. I did my best and worked hard. I had some good games and Coach Davidson was excited that I did well.”

It led to Orange winning the 3A State Championship. Andrews played 28 games for a squad that finished 26-3.

Andrews was also the last member of that championship team healthy enough to suit up this season. On March 10, she scored two runs as Orange rallied from a 7-1 deficit to defeat East Chapel Hill 10-8 in its Big 8 Conference opener.

Two days later, Coach Henry Horn informed the team that the season had been suspended after practice. It wasn’t supposed to feel final at the time, but it still did.

“I was upset,’ Andrews said. “We all were, but nobody showed it. I don’t think anybody wanted to think it was the end.”

Aside from her parents, Andrews’ biggest fan was her grandmother, who also played softball when slow-pitch was the main style for recreation and high school. Andrews called her “Maw Maw” and started her career at catcher, just as her grandmother did.

Andrews’ mother, Jeanne, played alongside Grace in a recreation co-ed league in Efland at Oak Grove Church.

When Maw Maw passed away in 2013, Andrews asked to move to 1st base on her travel team.

“Her Maw Maw also played softball and I think that was a big thing for Grace,” said Chris Andrews, her father. “She studies the game, she loves the game and is very competitive.”

While the short-term future for Andrews is unclear, the long-term future is more certain. Wearing a Catawba Valley jersey, she will compete in Region X of the National Junior College Athletic Association.

It also means she will compete in the same conference against Hurdle, her longtime teammate who signed with Patrick Henry Community College in November.

Andrews also played three seasons for the Orange women’s basketball team, where she was a regular rotation player on two squads that reached the state playoffs.

“When I think about Grace, I think about her toughness,” said Orange women’s coach B.J. Condron. “This year, she hit the floor hard in a game against Vance County. I went out to check on her and there was blood all over the floor. She chipper her front tooth. She goes to the bench to get some treatment from Mrs. Gaddy. I’m thinking she’s done for the game. Next thing I now, she’s ready to play. Grace is a ball player.”

Orange won 60-45. Andrews finished with nine points.

Grace also has a father and a grandfather who regularly officiate high school games in various sports. Dennis and Chris have officiated football, basketball, baseball and softball games. It’s not a path that Grace plans to follow.

“I thought about it, but I don’t think that’s for me,” Grace said.

“She is very quiet and shy,” Chris said. “I can see her as a coach one day after she’s done playing. She’s looking forward to transferring to a 4-year school after her time at CVCC.”

After winning it all as a freshman, Andrews is spending her final months of high school in her backyard, fielding grounders hit by her younger brother, Wyatt. It’s hardly the way Grace wanted to spend her senior season. Last season, Orange tied Cedar Ridge for the Big 8 Conference Championship, reached the 2nd round of the 3A State Playoffs and took D.H. Conley to extra innings before being eliminated 2-1.

At a time when the entire world is having to adjust to make things better for their fellow man, Grace Andrews is ending her time at Orange High the same way.

Except for her, it’s second nature by now.

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