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HPCA softball clobbers Hickory Grove to win state title

May 22—WALLBURG — High Point Christian powered its way to its second straight state championship.

The top-seeded Cougars hit three home runs, Paisley Dixon struck out seven in a strong relief appearance and HPCA defeated second-seeded Hickory Grove Christian 14-2 in five innings Saturday afternoon at Wallburg Baptist Church.

With the win, the Cougars, who won the series opener 11-0 in five innings Friday, sealed the NCISAA 3A softball state championship — their second in a row after outlasting the Lions last year at North Davidson.

"It's a little unreal, to be honest," HPCA coach Lin Hayworth said. "We started six years ago with a plan hopefully to get here. We've been very, very fortunate, especially the last three years. We've been blessed with a lot of talent — a lot of good players, good coaches. And we've been able to play at a high level."

Hailey Allred tripled, homered and drove in three runs for the Cougars (19-7). Maci Burkhart, who also tripled, and Lauren Sexton each homered in a two-hit, two-RBI performance. Blakely Bowman also went 3 for 3 with a double and two RBIs.

"It feels so good," said Mary Douglas Hayworth, a senior alongside Lexi Hall. "It feels so good to win twice in a row. And to finish off not just my senior year but my entire sports career, it feels so good to finish it off on such a high note."

HPCA took the lead right away. As the visiting team for game 2, it led off the first with a single by Bowman. A stolen base and two pitches to the backstop allowed her to score, and later in the inning Allred drove a triple to right-center to score another run.

Hickory Grove (16-12) nearly answered. It loaded the bases with one out in the first against Hall, then singled in a run with its first batter facing Dixon. But the Cougars — who also got three hits, including a double and triple, from Laci Jarrell — eventually took full control.

HPCA — moving runners and applying almost constant pressure — scored two runs in each of the second, third and fourth innings to lead 8-1. Allred's two-run home run in the third and Burkhart's solo home run in the fourth highlighted the outburst.

The Cougars, who had just one home run coming into the day, added six runs in the fifth — keyed by a two-run home run by Sexton and an RBI triple by Burkhart. That gave them a large enough lead to finish off their dominant performance in five innings.

"We knew, since it was our last game, that we had to put on a show and give it our hardest," said Burkhart, a sophomore catcher. "We have more than one person who can hit home runs and we just showed our best today.

"Sometimes it's self-confidence, but at the same time it's energy from teammates — like starting a rally or lifting each other up at the plate. I started out not getting two hits and my teammates were behind me and I hit one out. It just feels great."

Dixon, an eighth-grader, pitched very well in relief of starter Hall, who struggled with walks in the first inning. But, after a run-scoring single, the Cougars escaped with a pair of infield outs and they didn't allow another batter to reach until the fifth.

By that point HPCA, which also won a state championship in 2013, had the outcome well in hand, as Dixon allowed just one run on four hits and no walks in 4 2/3 innings.

"Lexi has been really good for years, and Paisley's come in and taken some pressure off her," Hayworth said. "She pitched well. She's really consistent, keeps it in the zone and spins it well. She's been really solid."

On Friday, Allred went 3 for 3 with a double and four RBIs to lead the Cougars in game 1. Mary Douglas Hayworth and Lauren Sexton each had two hits and an RBI. Bowman, who tripled, also had two hits. Dixon got the pitching win, striking out 11 while allowing just two hits and no walks.

mlindsay@hpenews.com — @HPEmichael