High School Highlights

Freedom overcomes tragedy to win state softball title

15haleynelsonFreedom Christian Academy’s softball team experienced tragedy before its 2019 season ever started. But by season’s end, the coaches and players were able to move from tragedy to triumph as they bought home the school’s third North Carolina Independent Schools Athletic Association state title in four years.

The Patriots entered this year’s NCISAA 2-A state tournament as the No. 3 seed but cruised through the double elimination portion of the playoffs unbeaten. They beat both top-seeded Rocky Mount Academy and No. 2 Halifax Academy along the way, the former on its home field in a 16-inning duel lasting over three and a half hours.

Freedom finished the season 16-4 under the leadership of first-year head coach John Smith. Smith was no stranger to the Freedom softball program. He became the school’s director of security in 2016 after his longtime friend, the late Eddie Dees, had become Freedom’s softball coach and led the Patriots to their first-ever softball championship.

Dees passed away that same year. Smith, a former member of the Cumberland County Sheriff’s Department and the Hope Mills Police Department, continued in an assistant coaching role until he was asked to take over as head coach entering the 2019 season.

It wasn’t long after he was hired that the team experienced misfortune. Haley Roberson, the starting third baseman, died at her home in late September one morning before school.

“She was a solid defensive player and an offensive threat,’’ Smith said of Roberson. “Between the emotions of losing her, starting the season without her and trying to fill that void, it was some trying times.’’

It was reflected in the team’s record as they struggled to a 3-3 start.

“We only had five returnees and eight new girls,’’ Smith said. “The nucleus of that bunch was seventh and eighth graders. They had travel ball experience, but they hadn’t been with our program. We had to learn their skill set.’’

Smith praised the work of two veteran assistant coaches, Russell Montgomery and Jimmy Nelson. “They know the game inside out and were there to help me,’’ he said.

So were their two daughters, pitcher Haley Nelson and catcher Molly Montgomery. Nelson, a junior, is committed to play at Queens University of Charlotte. Montgomery, a senior, has a scholarship to Gardner-Webb University.

Just getting to the postseason was a brutal test for Freedom because of the tough competition it faced in its own league, the Sandhills Athletic Conference. Cape Fear Christian Academy won the NCISAA 1-A state championship. Fayetteville Christian made the final four in the 3-A playoffs, and Village Christian was a top ten seed in the same classification.

The Patriots lost at Rocky Mount Academy 4-0 in their second game of the season, so Smith knew when they faced them again in the state playoffs it was going to be a challenge.

“It was definitely a pitching duel for 16 innings,’’ he said of the rematch in the state tournament. Finally, Marissa McQueen, a seventh grader, drilled a double to right center to score a pair of runs that held up for the win.

Nelson went the distance on the mound and recorded 13 strikeouts in the win. Both she and Montgomery were selected to the NCISAA 2-A All- State team.

But those aren’t the most interesting numbers about the championship season. Roberson’s jersey number was three, her position third base, and that number kept popping up for Freedom in the postseason. To begin with, they were the third seed in the state tournament.

They won the final game of the tournament over Halifax 6-3, after scoring three runs late to break a 3-3 tie. And when the season was over, the Patriots had their third state title.

“Although Haley was not present, she was there in spirit and mind with us,’’ Smith said.

Photo: Haley Nelson

Scholar Athletes of the Week


Isabella Witherow

Gray’s Creek  • Cross country/swimming/ Unified track •  Junior

Witherow has an unweighted grade point average of 4.0. She is a member of National Honor Society and the Yearbook Club. She will attend North Carolina Governor’s School this summer.



Nick Quinn

Gray’s Creek • Wrestling/Unified track • Senior

Quinn has a weighted grade point average of 4.4. He was a member of the Academy of Information Technology at Gray’s Creek. He will attend North Carolina State in the fall to study engineering

Patriot All-Conference girls soccer

14CorrineShovlainHere is the Patriot Athletic Conference girls soccer team as chosen by the league’s head coaches. 

Goalkeeper of the year: Lindsay Bell, Terry Sanford

Defensive player of the year: Kara Walker, Terry Sanford

Offensive player of the year: Corrine Shovlain, Terry Sanford

Coach of the year: Karl Molnar, Terry Sanford

First team:

• Terry Sanford — Maiya Parrous, Kate Perko

• Pine Forest — Sierra Turisch, Alyssa Rancour, Cate Hinton, De’Sheryl Hill

• Gray’s Creek — Kylie Rock, Emma Brock

• Overhills — Valeria Pomales, Tayra Chikhaoui

• Cape Fear — Amelia Shook

• South View — Kyra Delany, Lillian Flantos

Second team:

• Cape Fear — Gabrielle Bynum

• Terry Sanford — Courtney Arnold, Halie Blizzard, Imani Elliott

• Gray’s Creek — Eve Morrison, Gabi Jobes

• Pine Forest — Holly Harwick, Avery Vorholt, Kahala Bandamann, Stella Valenzuela

• Overhills — Georgia Migos, Aja Wilson, Katelynn Johnson, Marissa Rodriguez

Honorable mention:

• Overhills — Tyanna Lee, Aliyah Proctor

• Pine Forest — Hailey Harwick

• Cape Fear — Lily Terwilliger, Emily’s Holt, Nyanja Williams

Photo: Corrine Shovlain

Patriot All-Conference boys tennis

15tennisterrysanfordHere is the Patriot Athletic Conference tennis team as chosen by the league’s head coaches.

Player of the year: Alexander Kasari, Terry Sanford

First team, singles:

• Terry Sanford — Nathan Lieberman, James Barefoot

• South View — Christian George, Ben George

• Overhills — Roger America, Chase Thompson

• Pine Forest — Jacob Green, Colby Blackwell

• Gray’s Creek — Garrett Hoyt, Dylan Daniel

• Cape Fear — Jalen Farmer, Hunter Edwards

First team, doubles:

• Terry Sanford — Nathan Lieberman, Alexander Kasari

• South View — Christian George, Ben George

• Overhills — Roger America, Chase Thompson

• Gray’s Creek — Garrett Hoyt, Dylan Daniel

• Cape Fear — Hunter Edwards, Eli Benbenek

Photo:  Left to right: Terry Sanford’s Nathan Lieberman, Coach Gene Autry, Alex Kasari

Hope Mills has good numbers for American Legion team

12LandenHarrisIf the early turnout is any indication, Mark Kahlenberg should not have a problem keeping a full team on the field this summer for the Hope Mills Boosters American Legion baseball program.

At the first official practice of the season last week, Kahlenberg had a potential roster with 23 names of players from area high schools who were either on hand at the first workout or had expressed interest in playing this year.

Even with the good turnout, Kahlenberg expects this year’s team to be somewhat young, with a number of players who will be getting their first taste of the American Legion brand of baseball. The roster is heavy with a big crop of players from Cape Fear. Gray’s Creek High School has returned to the mix, along with players from South View and Douglas Byrd.

Before it’s all over, Kahlenberg hopes to pick up some players from Freedom Christian and Terry Sanford. The Bulldogs were still involved in the state 3-A baseball playoffs when the Boosters American Legion season kicked off last Sunday with a doubleheader against Jacksonville Post 265.

“Last year we were struggling to put nine guys together around tournament time,’’ Kahlenberg said. “At our first meeting (this year), we had 14 guys, and I knew there were 10 other guys who couldn’t make it.’’

Among the players Kahlenberg will be counting on are pitcher Landen Harris from Gray’s Creek, who’s committed to play at the University of North Carolina at Pembroke. Another prospect is Aaron Smith, Harris’ Gray’s Creek teammate, who batted in the No. 3 position for the Bears this season.

South View prospects include Riley Caudle, who recently committed to play for Methodist University. Another promising player is Cape Fear’s Nick West, who played shortstop and pitched and could fill an important need for Kahlenberg in the heart of the lineup.

Kahlenberg doesn’t feel the team has an established pitching ace as the season begins and will have to rely on pitching by committee until things get more settled. “Hopefully we can develop those pitchers into a starting rotation,’’ he said.

Both Harris and Caudle are optimistic about this team’s chances this summer.

“I like playing with my friends from all over Cumberland County,’’ Harris said. “I think we can do pretty good if we bring it all together, hit the ball and play the game how we learned it.’’ Harris also hopes to use the Legion experience to work on his off-speed pitches and improve his velocity.

Caudle is looking forward to facing better pitching this summer, improving how he sees the curveball and working on improving his ability to hit to the backside. “We have a lot more people than last year,’’ he said. “A lot of them are going to college, so they’ll focus on Legion ball.’’

The Boosters will again play their home games at South View High School.

Following is this year’s schedule. Whiteville currently does not have a team this year, but Kahlenberg said he had seen reports on social media that the Whiteville club was attempting to get funding so it could possibly return this year. For now, its games have been removed from the schedule.

Photo: Landen Harris



EDITOR'S NOTE: Due to some late changes in the Hope Mills Boosters 2019 schedule, portions of the version in this week's print edition are incorrect. The correct schedule appears below. 


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