When North Carolina’s men’s basketball team lost its top seven scorers to graduation or the NBA following its 2005 national championship, most pundits predicted a serious dip in the Tar Heels’ fortunes for the next season.
All Carolina did was ride freshman Tyler Hansbrough’s back to a 23 wins, a 12-4 ACC finish and yet another high seed in the NCAA tournament. We all know what has happened since, including two runs to the Elite Eight, one Final Four and this year’s team that is still playing in the Sweet 16.
Area high school softball observers may have similar predictions for Forbush High’s program following the graduation of two straight strong classes of players, including three-time conference pitcher of the year Lauren Harris last spring.
Yet Falcons coach Burl Love believes he has enough back in his arsenal to pull a Roy Williams this spring and keep Forbush as the team to beat in the Mountain Valley 2A.
“I have a very positive outlook for the season, and very high expectations as usual,” said Love, whose team hasn’t lost a conference game since he took over in 2006. “I think we’re going to surprise some people.”
Senior Jessica Dzeskewicz takes over the pitching duties from Harris. She doesn’t have quite the same pop on her throws that her predecessor had but she is a battler.
Dzeskewicz improved to 5-0 on Friday with a booming 14-3 win at Wilkes Central. Her other victories have come against 3A Reagan (5-4 score), defending 1A state champion East Surry (7-1 score), 4A West Forsyth (4-2 score) and West Stokes (2-1 score).
In three of those games, Forbush had to rally for the victory, including last week’s win over West Stokes where the Falcons broke a 1-1 tie with a run in the seventh.
“Jessica is doing well,” Love said. “The great part about it is that we have yet to see Jessica pitch a great game. We’re winning and that’s great, but we will definitely get better as the season goes along.”
Love likes that his team is producing offensively. That had been a problem the past few years. The Falcons would lock down opponents with Harris’ stellar pitching but wouldn’t put a lot of runs on the board to support her.
“We’re scoring more than one or two runs per game and that’s a big positive for us,” Love said. “In the past we’ve had a tough time scoring four or five runs to win games. We’ve had to battle back after getting behind in (three) of our games, but the girls didn’t quit.”
Other seniors on this year’s Forbush roster include shortstop Taylor Smith, outfielder Maggie Shore and first baseman Haley Pardue. The junior class has solid varsity experience. Those players include Jessica Hinkle (2B), Ciera Cockerham (3B), Stephanie Kirk (OF), Leslie Long (1B), Paige Hauser (OF) and Hannah Lineberry (OF).
Lindsey Mathis, an outfielder, is the lone sophomore on the Falcons’ early season roster. Freshmen Harley Rouse (OF) and Cali Baity (C) round out the varsity. Cockerham was the team’s primary catcher last season but moves to third base.
Forbush enjoyed its biggest offensive explosion of the season Friday at Wilkes Central. With the score 6-3 in the sixth inning, the Falcons exploded for eight runs to pull away.
Dzeskewicz and Cockerham singled to lead off the sixth, then Long walked. Pardue followed with a grand slam. Three more hits and three walks brought four more Falcon runs home.
“We have to play much sharper defense and locate pitches better,” Love said. “We did hit the ball well — I have us getting 16 hits, but we also struck out seven times. The strike zone changed with every pitch and I tried to emphasize not chasing bad pitches even though they might be called for a strike. It’s a factor that we have no control over, but we have to deal with
Smith finished the game 4-for-5 with two RBIs, hitting two doubles and a triple. Cockerham also finished 4-for-5 with two RBIs, two doubles and two runs. Hinkle went 3-for-5 with three RBIs and three runs. Pardue was 2-for-4, finishing with five RBIs in all.
Forbush will host Surry Central on Friday in what could be a key MVAC showdown. The Golden Eagles nearly knocked off the Falcons in last year’s conference tournament semifinals and are off to a great start this season.
Love’s team will compete in the Varsity Clash of the Champions on Saturday in Morganton. Games loom next week against North Surry (Tuesday), West Stokes (Wednesday) and Ashe County (Friday).
UPDATE: Forbush lost to Davie County 1-0 on Tuesday night. Davie scored its run in the bottom of the fourth inning on a solo homer from Morgan Wyatt. The War Eagles managed just one other hit all night against Falcon pitcher Jessica Dzeskewicz. The Falcons had four hits for the game.