South Granville softball coach Walter Day is so low key it’s difficult to imagine what would ruffle his feathers on the fast-pitch diamond.
But what gets the low-key Day chattering in a high-praise riff is his standout senior pitcher, Miranda Barker. He knows she is a franchise player who has carried his team to back-to-back NCHSAA 2A state championships in 2015 and 2016.
“Miranda’s pretty much a lights-out pitcher. I don’t know how many strikeouts she has, but she’s leading our conference in strikeouts,” Day said as his undefeated Vikings were waiting to take on unbeaten Orange on Saturday at the 18th Annual Southern Alamance Patriot Eastern Invitational.
She had 105 strikeouts coming into the tournament, and fanned 10 Orange players in her six-hit effort.
“She threw two perfect games and four no-hitters, so she’s doing real well from the mound her last year," Day said. "I’m really proud.”
Although Barker’s performance spoke for itself as she and her Viking teammates clipped the Panthers 6-2, Day was happy to add some post-game emphasis.
“Miranda is spot on. You trust her with everything she’s done,” he said.
Barker was a little tougher in her self-critique.
“For the first four innings it was basically a pitching battle. It wasn’t a hitting thing,” she said. She felt like she was throwing well, and her rise ball was wicked.
“They were chasing them,” she said with the grin of a master tactician.
But what about that sixth inning where she was bruised with a triple and a pair of doubles to let Orange take a fleeting 2-1 lead?
“I left them on the plate,” she said of her breaking balls. “They were supposed to be off, but I just messed up.”
Barker also had a good night at the plate, going 2-4 with a double that drove in a pair of runs.
“It feels great because most people think pitchers are pitchers, pitchers don’t hit, pitchers don’t play any other position. But when you get a pitcher who can do all the above, you’re set,” Barker said.
She will be taking her skills to D-III Salem College in Winston-Salem, where she will double major in exercise science and education on an academic scholarship in the fall. She shunned D-I offers because “I didn’t want a big school.”
But Saturday’s showdown was as much a tale of two high-caliber teams as it was about two pitchers. Orange coach Cliff Davidson couldn’t be happier with the season senior Kristina Givens has given him. She and the Panthers are now 12-1 on the year.
“I honestly believe my pitcher is one of the best spinning pitchers, changeup pitchers, I’ve ever had,” Davidson said. “When she’s on her game, and she hits her locations, and she’s spinning it, I think we’ve got a good chance.”
Givens gets a lot of help behind the plate from Davidson’s daughter, Mia, who is headed to Mississippi State to play on scholarship in the fall. She has nine home runs this year even though pitchers frequently throw around her.
With two of the premier pitchers in the Triangle on two of the best teams, Saturday’s clash of the titans was expected to be a high-scoring slugfest. Orange was averaging 15 runs per game, and South Granville was averaging 14.
It didn’t quite turn out that way, but both coaches got what they came for — the measuring stick of stiff competition.
“We came up here because we wanted to see two good teams, because we’re hitting Northwood, and then Webb, so we wanted to get our girls’ timing down before we hit the big part of conference,” Davidson said.
“This is the games we need so we can really see where we’re at, and what we need to work on. I’m excited about it to see where we’re at compared to the big teams” such as South Granville, whose 2A dynasty is something he would like to replicate in 3A, Davidson said.
“These girls really feel like they can play with anybody,” he said. “This team pound for pound all around is better than last year’s team.”
“We’ve got good competition in the conference, but you come up here to see a little bit different talent, 3A’s and 4A’s,” to see how the team stacks up with the larger schools, Day said.
“We were excited for this game so we could show exactly how good we are, how much effort we put into the game instead of just playing,” Barker said. And that effort is all the more amazing this year considering the Vikings are starting four freshmen, three of them in the infield.
“We do have a younger team,” Barker said, so it’s hard to compare this year’s rendition to the past two championship teams. What hasn’t changed is the hunger to chase down a third straight title. “Everybody gives their all. Nobody slacks off.”