ALBEMARLE — A year ago, South Stanly softball coach David Poplin had just seen his team make it to the NCHSAA 1A state championship round and fall short to Camden County in a best-of-three series.
The Bulls (30-3) are singing a different tune now.
South defeated the Atlantic Five Conference’s Bear Grass Charter Bears (24-6) with 4-3 and 4-0 wins to claim the state title, sweeping the championship series that was held at UNC-Greensboro.
It is the school’s third state softball title in program history — and the second for Poplin — after South claimed the title a decade ago in 2012 and 1998 before that.
“It was an awesome ride and I’m ready to do it again, to be honest with you,” Poplin said of the Bulls’ championship win. “For lack of a better word, it was a relief. My assistant coach Matt Little and I talked all through the winter and spring about how we had to figure out how to get back and then how to seal the deal. It was a huge relief to be able to come in and play with confidence and do all the things that we’ve basically done all year.”
South senior pitcher Ali Glover was named the Series MVP after she recorded 26 strikeouts in two games, posting 16 strikeouts in Game 1 followed by a complete game shutout in Game 2 where she added 10 more K’s.
In a year full of statistical accolades, the Bulls closed out their conference-winning season with a 13-game winning streak and were able to close out the championship round. During last year’s final series, the Bulls won Game 1 with an 11-5 victory but went on to lose Games 2 and 3 with 7-2 and 3-2 scores, respectively.
Things were different this time around.
“I could see that every time we’d make a big play that the emotion from our players was a lot more than it was anytime during the year,” Poplin said. “Of course you’re on the biggest stage playing for the biggest prize, but their emotions were as unmatched as I’ve ever seen. It feeds a coach like me to just keep going.”
In Game 1, the Bulls struggled with Bear Grass Charter pitcher Macy Bowen, who allowed just one run on seven hits with three strikeouts in 6⅔ innings. It took a three-run walk-off triple from South sophomore Cassidy Smith to bring the Bulls to victory.
In Game 2, three Bulls juniors — Kassie Swink, Alexis Harward and Mattie Poulos — had two hits apiece to lead South’s offensive attack that complemented Glover’s performance on the mound.
“Ali (Glover) was on top of her game and we had some timely hits, nice bunts, good base running and good defensive plays,” Poplin said. “Everything just worked out. I know it’s a cliché, but it was almost like it was meant to be.”
With 10 players returning next season, South is primed and ready to make another big run in 2023 as the Bulls look to defend both their Yadkin Valley Conference and state titles.