KENLY — The postgame snack in the North Johnston softball dugout on Friday night was doughnuts, fittingly.
Then again it would have been more fitting if the Panthers were serving up the doughnuts instead of chowing down on them. They’ve taken to the former very well.
Friday’s 10-0, six-inning win over Northern Carolina 2A Conference rival Bunn was the N&O’s top-ranked softball team’s 12 straight shutout win.
The Panthers haven’t given up a run since a 20-1 win on March 15 over Louisburg. The streak is tied for the seventh longest in NCHSAA history. The state record, set by Kings Mountain in 2006, is 19 straight.
North (19-0 overall, 12-0 conference) would have to keep the goose eggs rolling through the first game of the 2A state championship series to break the record.
And that’s what motivates the Panthers most – the state championship series, not the shutout record.
“We all just have one goal and that’s the state championship,” said North senior catcher Taylor Adams. “Since last year, 258 days from the time the season ended until we started, and now, it’s what drives us.”
The Panthers lost to nearby rival and eventual state champion Wilson Beddingfield in extra innings in the third game of the eastern championship series.
North Johnston, which clinched no worse than a share of the Northern Carolina 2A Conference championship with Friday’s win over Bunn, has played like a team on a mission, outscoring their conference rivals 168-1 this season.
Olivia Narron and Kaylynn Batten had three-hit nights for North in the win, while Ashleigh Mason and Caroline Turner added two hits each.
Senior pitcher Taylor Batten, a North Carolina recruit, struck out eight and didn’t issue a walk in a three-hitter. Batten has been the lead cog in a three-armed pitching attack for the Panthers with fellow seniors Caroline Turner and Meredith Johnson. Both were proven pitchers on the travel circuit but hadn’t really been used in previous seasons with Batten and former standout Tayler Creech giving opposing teams plenty of trouble.
“When Lauren was hurt for a little bit, we had to use Caroline and Meredith more than we’d planned to, but they’ve both been very good,” said North coach George Daniels. “This is a really tight group; they work for each other and are always together. I’ve had tight groups before but nothing like these girls.”
Working to keep opponents off of the scoreboard is nothing new for Batten, so the streak hasn’t phased her. “It hasn’t changed the way we play one bit,” she said. “We have big dreams.”
Panther opponents have rarely threatened to score during the streak. Only three runners – all in wins over Roanoke Rapids – have reached third base.
Offensively, North has speed on the bases, power throughout the lineup and can play the slap hit or bunt game.
“We have all the elements,” said Daniels, a 30-plus-year coaching veteran. “But like anybody else, we can be beat. We have to make ourselves better. … We’re focused on winning it all. We felt like we had a good chance to do it the last two years.
“The best team wins the championship at that moment. It’s not necessarily the best team throughout the season. We’re like anybody else: we have to keep winning games to get there and to have that chance.”
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