Softball team's bond carries over from basketball season

Five of the first-year players on Cannon School's softball team also played last winter on the school's basketball team, which made a surprising run to the round of eight in the state private/independent schools tournament.

The softball team's new additions have done more than just fill roster spots, which is something Cannon struggles with year after year.

The five are striving to continue the strong bond they formed during basketball season.

Sporting a 10-2 record through May 2, Cannon's 5-year-old program is enjoying its finest season by every measure of success.

After four mediocre seasons, the Cougars are on the verge of their first Charlotte Independent Schools Athletic Association championship and a probable No. 1 seed in the state 3A tournament.

"We have the strongest team we've ever had and that we'll have for a while," said junior pitcher McKenzie Moyer. "We'll always have fun, but we'll never be as naturally talented and naturally athletic as we are this year."

Climbing in playoffs

Cannon was not eligible for state tournament play when it fielded its first softball varsity team in 2007. The Cougars finished 6-8 with a team consisting mostly of freshmen and sophomores.

The following season, Cannon posted an 8-12 mark, earning the seventh seed in the 12-team state tournament. The Cougars won their first game but were eliminated in the second round by eventual state champion Charlotte Hickory Grove Baptist.

Another one-and-done showing in the 2009 state tournament helped Cannon, seeded fifth, achieve its first winning season, at 12-8. Then in last year's playoffs, the Cougars climbed two more spots to be seeded third (among what has become eight teams). They were eliminated by Charlotte Providence Day for the second straight year.

Coming off last year's 10-10 season, fifth-year coach Pat Moyer knew his team had lost enough players that he may have to go "through the hallways" to find a couple of rookies to fill his roster.

But something special was happening with Cannon's girls basketball team that would benefit the softball team.

The basketball Cougars had improved their winning percentage by more than .200 from the previous season and reached the second round of the state playoffs. Such an improvement brought the players closer together, and some of them chatted about trying out for softball in the spring.

New to the game

Two basketball players who were already established on the softball team were McKenzie Moyer, an all-state junior pitcher, and all-state senior catcher Julie Harriss. Others making the jump to softball were senior Olivia Osborne, sophomore Hailey Foreman and freshman Reed Harmon.

The new softball players also included foreign exchange students Emma Virtanen of Finland, a junior, and Chantal Neuwald, a sophomore from Germany.

Neither Virtanen nor Neuwald had ever even seen a softball game in their home countries, let alone played in one.

Yet 36 hours after basketball season ended, they were playing in their first softball game.

"The first game, Emma was batting, and I said, 'Emma, move closer to the pitcher,'" Pat Moyer recalled. "She said, 'What is pitcher?'"

Virtanen and Neuwald have apprenticed well. Virtanen is a starter in left field, and Moyer has developed her into a switch-hitter who's batting .333. Neuwald is a part-time starter in the outfield.

"Softball was a whole new experience for me, but I really like it," Neuwald said. "We don't have that kind of sport in Germany. It was challenging at first, because I didn't know what to do, but now it's fun, and I enjoy being with the team."

The Cougars are led by McKenzie Moyer (.575 batting average, 80 strikeouts in 60 innings), Harriss (.430, three homers) and junior first baseman Stephanie Gray (.537, 21 runs batted in) and twin senior infielders Ally and Courtney Reynolds.

Cannon passed a milestone this season when, in early April, it beat five-time defending state champion Charlotte Hickory Grove Baptist.

This year's state tournament is scheduled for May 17-21.