Jay M. Robinson softball team carries perfect record into state tournament.
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Tuesday, May. 20, 2014

Jay M. Robinson softball team carries perfect record into state tournament.

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/05/13/15/44/Wywb1.Em.138.jpeg|237
    - JOE HABINA
    Jay M. Robinson softball coach Jim Allen gathers his team after a victory over West Charlotte on May 6.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/05/13/15/44/1ow15l.Em.138.jpeg|237
    - JOE HABINA
    Robinson’s Jordan Lemasters pitches to battery mate McKayla Davis in a game against West Charlotte on May 6.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/05/13/15/44/7qG5k.Em.138.jpeg|237
    - JOE HABINA
    Jay M. Robinson’s Jordan Lemaster pitches to battery mate McKayla Davis in a game against West Charlotte on May 6.

The Jay M. Robinson softball team made a run to the 3A state championship game last year, which was a bit of a surprise for the team.

It gave the Bulldogs confidence that they could do it again, even after moving up to the 4A classification.

After winning the MECKA 8 4A conference tournament title on May 9, the Robinson softball team had a perfect 22-0 record.

Robinson has played just three games against Cabarrus public schools this year, including two against conference rival Kannapolis Brown. But the Bulldogs’ undefeated regular season record and No. 2 ranking in The Charlotte Observer’s Sweet 16 poll has allowed the team to make its claim as the county’s best team.

“I didn’t think we would be undefeated,” said coach Jim Allen after a first round conference tournament win. “I figured we’d drop one or two somewhere, but I thought we’d be pretty good.”

The move up to 4A was daunting by itself, but Robinson’s switch from the South Piedmont Conference to the MECKA was lateral at best. A few teams in the MECKA have rich histories, but the league’s recent track record has been average.

The Bulldogs still had to fight through a couple of tough late-season games that nearly ruined their unbeaten record. Robinson won two games when last-inning home runs broke a tie.

On April 29, the Bulldogs visited conference foe Hopewell. Robinson allowed an uncharacteristic six runs.

Senior center fielder Tori Zavodny had already hit a grand slam in the game when she came up in the seventh inning with a runner on. Her second homer of the game clinched the victory.

The next day, Lincoln Charter visited Robinson. In the bottom of the eighth, Jill Williams hit a solo home run to preserve the win.

Zavodny and Williams are two of several key players this season. Despite being the team’s leadoff hitter, Zavodny has belted six home runs. She is the offense’s catalyst with her ability to get on base and produce runs.

Williams, a sophomore who mostly was a designated hitter last year, is now playing second base full time. She leads Robinson with seven homers. The Bulldogs knack for the long ball (19 in 22 games) is one of the reasons for their steady play.

“We’ve come together as a team and we’re really hitting the ball well,” said Zavodny. “We’ve had over 15 home runs as a team, that’s a huge improvement. Keleigh (Romine) has been an awesome pitcher. She’s had a lot of shutouts and a lot of strikeouts and she’s really come through.”

Romine, a junior, is Robinson’s top starting pitcher. She had 15 victories heading into the playoffs with an ERA of 0.52 and 181 strike outs in 94 innings.

Offensively, the bat of catcher Sam Grazier has been a pleasant surprise. Allen says he thought he might have to use a designated hitter some for Grazier but his junior catcher has pulled through, batting .439 with three homers and 15 RBIs.

“I think one of the things that has helped us is that even though we lost a few seniors, we haven’t let it get to us,” said senior first baseman Alyssa Sciaudone, who is batting .442 with 18 RBIs. “We lost some pretty good ballplayers, and we’ve still kept it going.”

Allen expects Robinson to continue its solid play next season. The Bulldogs will lose just three seniors (Jackie Wallace, Zavodny and Sciaudone) and just two starters.

The following season, when Robinson graduates six players, the task of keeping the tradition going may be a little more difficult.

Joe Habina is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Joe? Email him at joehabina@yahoo.com.

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