CCC Softball: Naturile hits two home runs as Eagles take title
Most leadoff hitters at the high school softball level prefer a slapping technique for base hits. East Davidson’s Natalie Naturile has developed a different method — slap the ball clear out of the park.
The hard-hitting senior launched two home runs in Friday’s Central Carolina Conference tournament final, propelling the Lady Golden Eagles to a hard-fought 8-6 championship victory over Central Davidson in front of a full house at East. She finished the night 4-for-4 with three RBIs. Bailey Jones went 3-for-3 with two RBIs and Bayley Plummer had a pair of hits and RBIs. Haley Ray pitched 4 2/3 innings of superb relief to hold down the Spartans. East won its first CCC championship since 2004, and wrapped up the top spot from the conference for the 2-A state playoffs.
“Great night for Natalie,” said EDHS coach Amanda Akins. “Our seniors really stepped up for us tonight. All of them got hits and all of them made great plays. Haley Ray came in and did a phenomenal job. My seniors really drove these girls to do a great job tonight.”
Naturile is no stranger to hitting long balls. She had four leading up to the game including one in the semifinals against Salisbury. She hit two in a game against the Hornets earlier in the year, but those were pale in comparison to the stage she performed the feat on Friday.
“I have hit two in a game before but it was not quite the feeling like tonight was,” said Naturile, who will play for Catawba College next season. “This was in the conference championship game and it feels great.”
Central certainly did not make winning the title easy on the Eagles. They jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning on a bases-loaded walk and two-RBI single by Mackenzie Comer. East fought back with two in the bottom half on a two-run single by Plummer.
Naturile put her team ahead with one swing of the bat in the second, lifting a deep fly ball to left that just got over the fence for a two-run shot. Bailey Jones singled in a run to make it 5-3 Eagles.
In the first meeting between the two teams it was Central outslugging East. This one was shaping up to be a slugfest as well and Comer was the next to do some damage. After a Morgan Roach double, Comer — who replaced starter Kylie Ward in the circle late second inning — sizzled a ball down the left field line that caromed off the foul pole to tie the score at 5-5.
Ray replaced Brooke Walser on the rubber after the bases became loaded with one out. She slammed the door on the Spartans and gave up just one run the rest of the way.
East took the lead for good in the bottom of the fourth after a controversial call.
Naturile hit a clean single with one out and took second on a wild pitch. Brooklyn Hopkins put down a sacrifice bunt that advanced Naturile to third, but the home plate umpire called interference on Spartan first baseman Jack Byrd when she collided with Hopkins down the line. Hopkins was awarded first and Naturile was sent back to second due to the interference call. Central coach Jordan Stogner came out to protest, that eventually led to a meeting in the infield by a protest committee. It was finally ruled that there was no interference, giving Central the out at first and allowing Naturile to take third.
The ruling turned out to be just fine for East. Morgan Gallimore doubled home Naturile, then scored on some heady base-running on an infield single at second.
Central inched within a run in the sixth, but Naturile struck for a fourth time in what was the last trip to the plate for the Eagles. She tattooed the ball well over the scoreboard in center, capping a memorable night.
“Natalie Naturile is one of those that you fear when she comes up to the plate,” said Stogner. “You respect her and fear her because she can do big things.”
Central’s reign in the CCC came to an end, but not due to effort. The Spartans played with a lot more passion than it did in a 13-2 thumping to East on April 22.
“Very emotional game,” said Stogner. “I am not disappointed in anything we did tonight. We did make some errors but so did they. We played very hard and I am not upset. It was definitely an improvement from last time we played them.”
The championship win was the epitome of a total team effort.“Everybody is putting in hard work and effort and that is exactly what we need,” said Naturile. “Tonight, everybody did their part at the plate and absolutely did their part on defense.”
Notes: Central had four players with multiple hits ... East will host the No. 4 seed from the PAC-6 on Friday in the first round ... Central gets the third seed out of the Mountain Valley Conference.