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Golden Girls: Two state titles in one day for Waccamaw High teams

For the last four years, the girls soccer team at Waccamaw High has waited for next year. It finally arrived last week with the team’s first state championship.

The Waccamaw softball team only had to wait one year, but it didn’t make the taste of victory any less sweet.

“This was our year,” said Ashley Czechner, starting pitcher for the Warriors.

The girls claimed Waccamaw High’s first soccer and softball trophies in a single day on fields 17 miles apart.

For the soccer team, it was a 5-1 win over Christ Church Episcopal of Greenville. It was the team’s first trip to the championship after losing three times in the Lower State finals.

“I figured it was our time,” said Taylor Player, a senior co-captain who scored three of Waccamaw’s goals.

Fans packed up after the soccer match at Memorial Stadium in Columbia and headed for White Knoll High in Lexington County, a neutral site for the final game in the best-of-three softball series with Crescent High from Anderson County. Crescent swept the Warriors in the series last year.

Czechner drove in three runs and struck out eight in Waccamaw’s 4-1 win.

“What an atmosphere. I don’t think I’ve seen anything like that,” Waccamaw head coach Scott Streiffert said. “If I never have it again, at least I can say I had it once.”

Soccer: Warriors dominate in first trip to finals

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

Nervous, but confident, the Waccamaw High girls soccer team thought they could win the state Class A-AA title to cap a season that saw them win their first Lower State title. None thought they would batter Christ Church Episcopal 5-1, or outshoot the Cavaliers 24-8.

“I thought it would be closer,” said midfielder Beth Ann Bailey, one of Waccamaw’s 12 seniors.

For the first 20 minutes, it was. The Cavaliers pressed hard in the opening minutes and the Warriors were still trying to find their pace on the field at Memorial Stadium in Columbia.

“The grass was long,” said junior midfielder Yazzi Bennani. “It was like running in sand.”

Christ Church had a chance to gain the early advantage when Waccamaw keeper Lunden Simpson blocked a shot and the Cavaliers had a chance to put away the rebound. The ball went wide.

The Cavalier defense made a goal line save after their keeper, Katie Thomason, saw Waccamaw connect with a rebound.

The Warriors made good use of their opportunities to counterattack, and it paid off in the 25th minute when senior forward Taylor Player took a cleared ball at the Waccamaw end of the field. She carried it to the half, passed ahead to senior midfielder Stephanie Franza and sprinted forward to get the pass back from Franza in the penalty area. Player dribbled to the post and blasted the ball past Thomason.

Player scored again in the 28th minute off a ball that was served up to the half by senior defender Savannah Taylor, intercepted by senior forward Chandler Murphy and sent on to Player 20 yards out.

Player carried the ball into the area between a pair of defenders. Thomason charged forward, and Player slipped the ball into the opposite corner of the net.

“It wasn’t as hard as I expected it to be,” Player said. She was surprised at the amount of space she found on her second goal.

“I was kind of scared at the beginning. We kind of came out nervous,” she said.

Six minutes into the second half, Bailey scored from 35 yards after plucking a Christ Church pass out of the air. She lofted the ball over the defense and it took one bounce over Thomason.

While Waccamaw coach Brian Brennan was adding that goal to the score book, Murphy scored off a cross from the corner by Katie Rastello that Murphy intercepted at the far post.

“I didn’t even see it,” Brennan said.

The back-to-back goals banished any concern about a Cavalier comeback.

“We adjusted in the second half and were on,” Bennani said.

Christ Church avoided a shutout in the 66th minute when junior Alyssa Althoff scored off a corner kick that landed crisply at her feet in front of the Waccamaw goal.

While that goal was hard to defend, Simpson said she should have run down the loose ball that allowed the corner, one of only two in the game. She recorded seven saves.

“They weren’t all that strong on their shots because the defense was pressing them,” she said.

Waccamaw answered in the 69th minute. Murphy played a low ball out of the midfield to Player, who carried it into the penalty area and completed her hat trick.

“Everybody played amazing,” Murphy said. “Christ Church was a good team. We expected them to come out strong.”

The Warriors were knocked out of the Lower State final three years running by Bishop England, which won eight consecutive titles.

This year, Academic Magnet kept Bishop England out of the finals for only the second time in 19 years. The Warriors reached their first state final with a 6-1 win over Magnet.

Most of Waccamaw’s seniors have played together on recreation and club teams since they were 9 and 10. “They’ve been that good for a long time,” Brennan said.

This was the season when it all came together and everyone was healthy. “I can list everybody who was hurt the years we lost,” Brennan said.

This year, it was Academic Magnet who went into the Lower State final without the freshman who scored three times on the Bishops. And it was the Cavaliers who found themselves without their starting keeper, Allie Harrill, who broke her arm late in the season.

Waccamaw finished their championship season 18-3. “I think we made a statement,” Brennan said.

Player, Murphy and defender Candler Smith were named to the All-State team. Player was also named Class A-AA Player of the Year by the S.C. Coaches Association of Women’s Sports.

Player finished the season with 42 goals and 20 assists. She scored 119 goals in her high school career. Although she hadn’t planned to play soccer in college, she said she is having second thoughts.

“Ending like that made me want to play a little more,” Player said.

Murphy had 42 goals and 20 assists in her senior season. She will play at Wingate University in North Carolina next year.

“There’s not ever going to be a team like this again,” said Denver Gordon, a junior midfielder.

“We’ll be good next year, but not like this,” Bennani said.

The Warriors compiled a 71-8 record over the last four years, and out-scored opponents 445-35.

“These guys knew it was a great group,” Brennan said. “This team was unique.”

Softball: Defense backs up WHS claim for top spot

By Charles Swenson
Coastal Observer

It wasn’t about the trophy. It was about redemption.

Waccamaw High’s first state softball title redeemed the Warriors’ defeat by Crescent High in 2009, and their 3-0 loss to the Tigers in the second game of this year’s championship series that spoiled Waccamaw’s 33-0 record.

Even as the wins piled up, Waccamaw never made it to the top of the state softball coaches poll in Class AA.

As they went into the deciding game with Crescent at White Knoll High School in Lexington County, the Warriors heard the Tiger fans chanting, “Wacca Who? Wacca Who?”

Seven innings and 4 runs later, it was the Warrior fans who were packed in around the pitcher’s circle chanting, “Wacca Who? Waccamaw!”

“It was amazing,” said Nikki Legg, the senior right fielder. It was her pop-up with the tying run on base that ended the 2009 series. This year, she went three for four, scored twice and drove in a run in the series finale.

“We needed that little bit of confidence,” Legg said. They got it when she led off the first inning with a single.

“We definitely had more experience,” said Ashley Czechner, the pitcher who ended her senior season with 422 strikeouts and a .29 ERA. “This was our year.”

Czechner went two for three and had three RBIs in the title game.

After two games, Tigers pitcher Kelsey Davis didn’t hold any surprises, Czechner said.

The loss in Game Two gave Waccamaw coach Scott Streiffert a five-hour bus ride back from Anderson County to plan his strategy for Game Three. “We were pretty disappointed,” he said. “You don’t want the state championship game to be a test case to see how your kids respond.”

At practice the next day, he convinced the Warriors to back off the plate so they’d be able to read Davis better. They produced 13 hits.

“I think we showed a lot of heart and character and determination being able to come back,” Streiffert said.

Crescent had an early opportunity when Czechner hit the lead-off batter. She got into a dual with first baseman Erika Smith, who fouled off half a dozen pitches before finally grounding out to second.

After singling in the first, Legg reached second on a sacrifice by Tricia Hood. She reached third on a single by Ashley Brown, who then stole second.

Czechner singled to left to score Legg and Mackenzie Lugin, who ran for Brown.

In the second, Legg singled in Sam Homan to put the Warriors up 3-0.

Crescent got their only run when Smith walked in the top of the fourth and scored from first on a drive to right center.

“If you give up runs, you’d better be able to come back in the next inning and neutralize,” Streiffert said.

Legg singled in the fifth. Hood sacrificed again to put her on second. Czechner doubled to get Legg across the plate.

The Tigers got a runner on base in the sixth, but catcher Taylor Guthrie ended the inning by throwing her out at second.

Waccamaw gave up their third hit of the game with two outs in the seventh, but Kadie Nix, Crescent’s sophomore third baseman, sent a fly ball to left that Riley Morris easily handled to set off a celebration at home plate.

“The feeling as the ball hangs in the air and gets ready to drop in the left fielder’s glove and get the state championship – you can’t capture that,” Streiffert said.

Morris, a freshman, was a pinch runner last year when she got fooled by a hidden ball that cost Waccamaw a run in the 2009 final.

“There was a lot of redemption for our kids,” Streiffert said. “Riley is still smiling.”

They also proved that the Waccamaw defense extended beyond the pitcher’s circle. Czechner struck out eight. The other 13 outs came from the field.

“It was the most exciting thing I’ve ever experienced,” Hood, a junior, said. Her only complaint was that the last out wasn’t hit to her.

Brown, who transferred to Waccamaw this year, was on the St. James High team that won the state title in 2007. “This was more exciting,” she said.

Not only was it the first softball championship for Waccamaw High, it was a first for Streiffert and assistant coach Scott Cook, who said they never won any titles as players.

“It’s all about how you handle adversity,” Cook said.

The coaches’ parents were in the stands with other Waccamaw parents and fans. “My mom’s my biggest fan,” Streiffert said. “From the time I was 7 years old, she comes to all my games.”

The coaches warned the Warriors as they huddled in left field before the start of the game that the noise level would be high. Crescent fans, who have a tradition built on 18 state championships, filled the bleachers behind the first base dugout and home plate early. A bus load of Waccamaw students arrived in time to get seats behind the Warrior dugout and fill the fence along the third base line.

The student fan bus broke down last week on the way to Crescent, and fans only arrived in the seventh inning.

“I was overwhelmed by the number of people who came to Wednesday’s game, then turned around and came of Friday,” Streiffert said. “It’s something the whole program benefits from.”

The momentum in the stands shifted noticeably after Waccamaw put the first runs on the board. Players said that helped on the field.

“There was so much intensity. I wish we had that at every game,” Hood said.

Two Warriors on All-State team
Two Waccamaw High players were named to the Class AA All-State team.

Ashley Czechner, a senior pitcher, finished the season 27-1, had 21 shutouts, set a record with 22 strikeouts in a single game and hit .389. She had six home runs and 44 RBIs.

Ashley Brown, a senior who pitched and played first base, was 7-0 with six shutouts. She was .392 at the plate with two homers and 50 RBIs.

They were also All-Region along with Nikki Legg, Shelly Strickland, Tricia Hood and Melaina Moore.

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