South Charlotte

Offense leads Knights to conference title

The Ardrey Kell softball team likes to score runs.

This year, the Knights have scored 252 runs through their first 26 games, a school record, averaging 9.7 per game.

The Knights (19-7 through May 19) have scored more than 15 runs nine times this year, including 24 in a Southwestern 4A tournament semifinal win against Myers Park earlier this month and 15 in their first-round playoff win against Greensboro Page.

"We really stress offense because we know if you score a lot of runs you are always going to be in a game," said third-year Ardrey Kell softball coach Bob Bove. "We have no weak spot in our batting order. We know we're going to break through at some point in a game, whether it's the top, middle or bottom of the lineup."

The Knights are powered by a lineup with seven batters hitting over .400 on the season. First baseman Stephanie Wood, who usually hits cleanup with a .550 batting average, and designated hitter Samantha Shleffar are the only two seniors who regularly start.

Other Knights batting over .400 include juniors Alexa Grauer, Taylor Freeman and Jordan Hostetler, sophomore Shaina Carter and freshmen Jessica Haasl and Miranda Pendergrass.

Only sophomore Sarah Thornburg (.380), who has been slowed by a concussion, and freshman Erin Powers (.380) are below the .400 mark.

"Our offense has gotten better and better every year," Bove said. "But we have been so good this year, I don't know if we can get any better than this. But we have a lot of young talent, so you never know."

Senior Taylor Lynch is also an integral part of the lineup as the team's top pitcher.

Despite a young team, Ardrey Kell broke through this year to win both the SW4A regular-season and tournament titles in the same season for the first time. The Knights won both the 2009 and 2010 SW4A tournament titles but hadn't beaten Butler for a regular-season crown.

When Bove got to Ardrey Kell a little more than three years ago, the Knights had never beaten either Butler or Providence.

"The first time we played Butler and Providence in my first year, we lost both games," said Bove. "But then we came back and won the second game against both teams, and from that point on we have believed that we can be a great team."

The next step for Ardrey Kell is to make the same point in the playoffs. After advancing to the fourth round in 2009 before losing to eventual state champion Alexander Central, the Knights stumbled last year, losing a second-round game to lower-seeded Southwest Guilford.

This year, Ardrey Kell hopes to prove they not only have learned from the past but believe they can play with the best.

"I don't think we were ready or believed we were ready to be a great team in the past," Bove said. "But I think our girls absolutely believe right now that they can beat anybody in the state."