Bigger Plans

Metrolina Christian looks to take next step as softball program

by Aaron Garcia

The Metrolina Christian softball team – which features (from left) Aly Cramond, Bailey Bjorson, Casey Long and Mallory Broome – has designs on improving on last year’s state championship appearance. Aaron Garcia/UCW photo

It seems the standards for the Metrolina Christian Academy softball program have changed a bit.

Last year, the Warriors powered to a 22-6 record and advanced all the way to the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association 2A finals, where they lost to top-seeded Kinston Arendell Parrott, 3-2. It was a breakthrough season for the Warriors, who went 14-9 the year before.

So with his team sporting a 10-1 record as it began the second stretch of the season with a visit to Matthews Covenant Day on Friday, April 13, Metrolina Christian coach Ricky Broome didn’t shy from what the Warriors’ goals are for the remainder of the season.

“The No. 1 goal, as always, is you want to get to the state finals,” said Broome. “With the veteran players who have been there in the state tournament each year in (senior pitcher) Mallory (Broome) and (junior catcher) Bailey (Bjorson) since seventh and eighth grade, that’s always a goal of theirs also, to be there.”

And if the team’s production through its first 11 games is any indication, the Warriors have more than a fair shot to return to the state finals. The Warriors have already beaten Charlotte powers Northside Christian and Hickory Grove, and have swept Concord First Assembly by a combined score of 15-0 in a doubleheader. In all, the Warriors have plated 67 runs while only allowing 17 from their opponents. Mallory Broome has led the way at the plate with a .548 batting average, which includes team highs in RBIs (19), home runs (four), runs (17) and hits (17). Of the players with at least 30 plate appearances, Bailey Bjorson is next with a .455 batting average, followed by Sophie Ivie (.441), Macy Bjorson (.367) and Casey Long (.343).

As a team, the Warriors are batting .324, up from .299 last season.

The team’s offense was a bit of a given to begin the year, however, especially with the return of big hitters and college prospects Mallory Broome (Western Carolina signee) and Bailey Bjorson (Campbell commit).

But perhaps the biggest surprise has been the play of Broome in the pitcher’s circle. Last season she split innings with Cassi Carpenter, who has graduated and matriculated to South Carolina’s North Greenville University. So far, despite the increased workload, Broome has been nearly unhittable; of the 238 batters she’s faced, 129 have gone down by strikeout, giving her double-digit strikeouts in nine of her 11 appearances. She currently holds a 0.58 ERA and has held opponents to a .092 batting average while only allowing six earned suns. Of the nine wins she’s earned, seven have come by shutout.

After posting a 10-2 record last season with a .079 ERA, success in the circle is nothing new for Broome. But she said she has had to learn to pitch without the safety net that Carpenter provided in relief.

“There are times when people hit you and you know you don’t have a backup so you just have to suck it up and do whatever you can to get through it,” said Mallory Broome. “You can’t back down – you just work hard and push yourself.”

That seems to be a lesson the entire team has shared so far. The Warriors opened the season with a pair of scrimmage games against public schools Ledford and East Carteret High Schools. Though they didn’t count in the standings, Ricky Broome noticed that, for the most part, his team had picked up where it left off last season, despite the fact that many of the positions had been filled by newcomers.

As a coach at a private school, Ricky Broome explained that some of his goals are separate from his team’s. Chief among them is his need to keep one eye trained on the future, especially with the impending graduation of Mallory Broome (his daughter) and fellow senior Long. To combat a certain lack of future experience, Broome included a handful of underclassmen and middle school-aged players on this year’s roster and was anxious to see how they would react to the varsity level.

“Going into (those scrimmages), I wasn’t sure, but as we played, I said, ‘Oh my goodness – the younger kids are stepping up and they’re following the veteran players and playing well,” said Broome.

The youngsters should continue to play a big role for the Warriors, both this year and for seasons to come, as Ivie is just a seventh-grader and Macy Bjorson is in eighth grade. Freshmen Taylor Blalock, Rebecca Brewer, Lauren Walters, Cheyenne Bricken and Kylie Nestor all have been given chances to perform on the varistiy level.

“I’m really surprised with how (the younger players) moved up because in middle school, you don’t go to states, you don’t have conference championships,” said sophomore center fielder Aly Cramond. “Coming here, we’ve told them they need a lot of effort to get into this varsity team because we play conference games, we play at states.

“They understand we need to step it up a little bit and put 110 percent in there. They’ve done an amazing job.”

But the season hasn’t been without its hurdles, and the first came in the form of a 4-1 loss in the team’s season opener against new Class 3A rival Charlotte Christian. The Warriors left 10 runners on base, and Ricky Broome said it was the perfect time for his team to get a shot in the arm.

“If you’re going to pick up a loss, go ahead and get it out of the way early,” he said. “I’d rather get it out now instead of later in the season when everyone’s gunning for you.”

Three games later, the Warriors edged Weddington, a Class 3A public school, 1-0, in 10 innings. Broome had 17 strikeouts in the win.

It was a momentum-generating win, said Ricky Broome, and one that reaffirmed the goals the team is working toward this season.

“That was a very good ballgame,” he said. “To be honest with you, I think that was what put us over the edge. I said, ‘Hey, we just played 10 innings with a very good public-school team (and won). Let’s keep this rolling.’”

Ever since, said Mallory Broome, the players have bought in – an important fact with the second half of Metrolina Athletic Conference play coming up.

“Last year when we went to states, we were so close to winning,” she said. “This year, I feel like we can go that far. I know we’ve moved up to the 3A states this year, but if we play like we’ve been playing, we can make it.

“We can take it all the way.”

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