There’s not much of an offseason in softball nowadays.
Last week, Cedar Ridge third baseman Takia Nichols and shortstop Ava Lowry suited up for the Region 3 team for the North Carolina State Games in Durham. Playing five games over three days, Region 3 finished with the bronze medal after beating the Region 4 squad 2-1 at Duke Softball Stadium on Thursday.
The Region 3 squad, which was coached by Western Harnett’s Stephen Hales, finished 3-3 in the event. The team included players from Western Harnett, Jordan, Cleveland, Harnett Central, Apex, Wake Forest and Cape Fear Christian.
It was just another instance where Nichols and Lowry were teammates. It has been that way since they were together at Stanback Middle School, and carried through to Cedar Ridge High, where they won the 2019 Big 8 Conference Championship.
After the State Games, Nichols and Lowry found themselves paired together again on Friday. The North Carolina Softball Coaches Association named Nichols and Lowry to the 2021 3A All-State team.
Nichols was the 2021 Big 8 Conference Player of the Year. She led the league with 13 home runs, adding to her career total of 26, a school record in softball and baseball. Earlier this month, Nichols announced her commitment to play at North Carolina Central.
Nichols, who has started at third base since she was a freshman on Cedar Ridge’s 2019 team, concluded her junior season with home runs in each of her last six games. In a 8-3 win at Vance County on April 27, Nichols hit two dingers. The following outing against Southern Durham, the opener of a doubleheader, she also hit two home runs. Nichols led the Big 8 with 38 RBIs in 2021, pushing her career total to 86. That broke the school record held by Tori Dalehite, now playing at UNC Greensboro, who had 73 in her career that was cut short because of various injuries and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Before the 2021 season, Lowry announced her commitment to play at Division III North Carolina Wesleyan. Shortly after making her college intentions clear, Lowry started a season for the Red Wolves that left their coaches exasperated, thrilled, frustrated, joyous and confused.
But never, ever bored.
It started on March 17 with a 17-16 loss in eight innings to Northwood in Pittsboro, a game where Cedar Ridge trailed 11-4 at the end of four innings, only to take a 16-14 lead into the bottom of the seventh before the Chargers scored two runs in the final frame of regulation to send the game to extra innings.
In the opener, Lowry went 3-for-4 with a double and 4 RBIs.
Two weeks later, Lowry hit two home runs against East Chapel Hill in a 18-5 win at Wildcat Softball Stadium. Lowry finished 4-for-5 with six RBIs, which also included a double.
In a classic game against Orange on April 15, Lowry went 2-for-4, but that only tells a portion of a long, memorable story. Lowry had Cedar Ridge’s first hit, a double down the left field line. She eventually scored on a wild pitch with Marlee Rakouskas at the plate.
With Orange leading 8-1 in the bottom of the sixth inning, Lowry came up to bat with ShiLi Quade on base with two out. In an epic at-bat, Lowry fouled off five pitches to eventually draw a walk. It led to Quade scoring off a wild pitch, which triggered an incredible Cedar Ridge comeback.
Trailing 9-2 against an Orange team that had not surrendered more than three runs all season, the Red Wolves scored seven runs in the seventh inning to tie the game. Lowry reached on an error and scored off a wild pitch to narrow the Orange lead to 9-8, leading to Reagan Ruhl scoring the game-tying run off an RBI groundout by Alexandria Matthews.
In the eighth inning, Lowry hit a two-out triple to dead center that would have likely gone over the fence at any other park in the league.
Lowry concluded the season with an 11-game hitting streak. She went 2-for-3 with an RBI in a 8-3 win over Vance County on April 27 in Henderson.