True to the makeup of a team that achieved success despite limited varsity experience, five Orange softball players were named to the All-Big 8 Conference team.
Most notably, three of the honorees had not played a full varsity schedule before this season.
Junior 2nd baseman/3rd baseman Mary Moss Wirt, junior catcher Lauren Jackson, sophomore shortstop Carson Bradsher, sophomore centerfielder Serenity McPherson and freshman right fielder/pitcher Caden Robinson were all named to the first-team following a poll of the Big 8 Conference’s coaches.
In addition, Orange’s Gracie Walker was named Big 8 Pitcher of the Year.
Orange finished the regular season 12-0 and lost to Southwestern Randolph in the opening round of the 3A State Playoffs last Monday. It was the first Orange softball team to ever finish the regular season undefeated.
Wirt, who committed to Elon University before the season started, hit .457 with three home runs and 14 RBIs. She hit home runs in Orange’s opening games against East Chapel Hill and Cedar Ridge, which was the beginning of a season’s worth of domination for Orange. While Wirt’s offensive contributions were impressive enough, her biggest value came on defense. During a three-game stretch where 3rd baseman Emma Puckett was out of the lineup, Wirt took over her spot while freshman Delaney Shaffer played second. Wirt had a team-high five assists in Orange’s 11-9 win over Cedar Ridge in nine innings on April 15, a classic game where the Red Wolves scored seven runs in the bottom of the seventh inning after trailing 9-2. Wirt made two huge defensive plays during Cedar Ridge’s rally. The first came after Cedar Ridge’s ShiLi Quade laid down a gorgeous bunt towards third with runners at first and second. Wirt, realizing that discretion was the better part of valor, opted to hold the ball and surrender the hit instead of potentially throwing it into right field.
After Cedar Ridge tied the game 9-9, the Red Wolves had the bases loaded with two out when Wirt fielded a grounder hit by Emma-Rae Sharp. Instead of going to first, Wirt threw to Jackson at the plate to retire Marlee Rakouskas, the potential winning run, and send the game into extra innings. Wirt scored the game-winning run and recorded the final out.
Jackson, a junior, hit .526 in her third year as a varsity starter. She led the team with five home runs and was tied for second with 17 RBIs. She hit four home runs in Orange’s last three games, including two against Northern Durham in a 12-0 win, which concluded the regular season. Against the Knights, she went 4-for-4 with 3 RBIs. Jackson hit safely in eleven of Orange’s 12 games, and it would have been 12, but she was walked and hit by a pitch against Southern Durham in her only two plate appearances. Against Vance County, Jackson had a two-run double in the fourth inning for a victory that officially clinched the conference championship.
In her first full season at the varsity level, Bradsher led Orange in nine offensive categories. She hit .700 with 28 hits, 20 RBIs, 24 runs scored, seven doubles, four triples, 16 stolen bases, a 1.075 slugging percentage, and a .739 on-base percentage. McPherson and Bradsher occupied the top two batting slots in Coach Johnny Barefoot’s batting order in almost every game. The combination triggered an offense that outscored opponents 172-23. In her season debut against Cedar Ridge, Bradsher went 2-for-3 with two RBIs and three runs scored. Against Northwood on April 23, Bradsher went 4-for-4 with 3 RBIs and three runs scored. Stretching back to her freshman year, limited to four games because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Bradsher has hit safely in 15 of 16 career games. The only exception was a 22-0 win over Chapel Hill, where she was walked three times.
McPherson hit .533 with 24 hits and 22 runs scored. She was second on the team in all of those categories. McPherson also was fourth on the team with 16 RBIs. In Orange’s first meeting with Northern Durham, McPherson started the game with a triple and scored off a sacrifice fly by Bradsher. The following inning, McPherson laced a three-run homer to centerfield to put the Lady Panthers ahead 5-2. In the fifth inning, she threw out Northern shortstop Macey Ellis at the plate trying to score, which secured an Orange win that guaranteed a playoff spot.
Robinson, who usually hit third in Orange’s order, finished with a .429 batting average. She was second on the team with 17 RBIs. Robinson was also the backup pitcher to starter Gracie Walker. In the circle, Robinson was 5-0 in ten appearances with four starts. She had a 0.70 ERA with 34 strikeouts and three walks. In her first varsity game, Robinson went 4-for-4 with a double and a triple against East Chapel Hill. The following week against Cedar Ridge, she went 3-for-3 with 3 RBIs, including two doubles. She hit safely in all of Orange’s regular season games. Against Northwood on March 25, Robinson had four RBIs during a 12-run second inning. She started with a 2-run double, then drilled a two-run homer to centerfield.
Walker and Kelsey Tackett were named honorable mention. As Orange’s top pitcher, Walker went 4-1 with a 2.17 ERA. She had 37 strikeouts and eleven walks. Walker, who also played right field, hit .407.
Tackett, as a designated player, hit .462. Of her 12 hits, five were doubles.