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Owen softball is aiming for the top of the conference and fueled by fastballs

Fred McCormick

March 7 couldn’t have been a worse day for softball. The cold, wet conditions made the ball hard to see, hard to catch, hard to hit and hard to throw.

The Warlassies struggled to hit the ball early in their home opener against Erwin. But Jaiden Tweed, the team's pitcher, never had trouble throwing the ball. The junior set a school record for strikeouts, and the Warlassies prevailed, 8-2.

In her first game at home, Tweed put on a show. But it wasn't the first feat the team pulled off during its young season. Just a few days before beating Erwin's Lady Warriors, the Warlassies scored 25 runs in a win against Hendersonville, a Western Highlands Conference opponent.

Despite the rain, Jaiden Tweed retired 20 Erwin batters on strikes March 7, setting a school record for strikeouts in a game.

The Warlassies also opened the season March 3 with a win over rival Reynolds, making them 2-0 against 3-A competition and fellow Buncombe County schools through their first three games.

Tweed, who debuted in 2015 as a freshman with an explosive delivery and 201 strikeouts, has been instrumental in the hot start for the Warlassies, according to head coach Jenny Johnson.

“She’s obviously capable of so much,” Johnson said of Tweed. “She really puts the work in year-round and has for a long time. It’s really paying off.”

Tweed is entering the high school softball season with a new delivery for the second time in as many years. The adjustments for the pitcher who committed to play for Presbyterian College last year are akin to fine tuning a machine.

Tweed began working with a new pitching coach over the winter, her father, Heath, said.

“What this coach wanted to do was calm her feet down while keeping her explosiveness,” Heath said. “Pinpoint accuracy is what we’re really looking for. Tweed’s always been a really good pitcher with great movement and good accuracy. We’re looking to take that accuracy to the next level.”

Senior Bria Crompton drove in two RBIs in its win over Erwin on March 7, helping the Warlassies improve to 3-0.

The tweaks to Tweed’s footwork, have helped her control her delivery, Heath said. Tweed walked 82 batters as a freshman in 102 innings pitched. Last year she walked 61 in 106 innings.

But there’s more to her new pitching motion than improved accuracy.

“I’ve gained more confidence,” Tweed said. “Before I would go into games thinking if something goes wrong then maybe I can fix it. With this (motion), if something goes wrong I know what to do to fix it.”

Tweed’s pitching so far this season hasn’t been the only thing to stand out. She belted three home runs in the team’s first three games. Her dad attributes her early success at the plate to changes in her batting stance.

Jaiden Tweed has been an offensive force for the Warlassies, picking up three home runs in as many games.

For the Warlassies to accomplish their goal of finishing atop the conference this season, they’ll need offensive production from every batter in their lineup, Johnson said. That starts with Anissa Avila, the team’s lead-off hitter who last August committed to play for East Tennessee State University after a junior season in which she was named to the N.C. Softball Coaches Association's all-district team.

The left-handed hitting senior may be the fastest girl in the school, according to her track and field coach Joe Hyder.

“When I get up," Avila said, "my first thought is ‘I’m quick.’ So I want to get up there, get the ball down and get down to first."

Avila, who like many of her teammates plays travel softball during the school team’s off-season, wants to make the most of her senior season at Owen.

“I came to the realization during travel ball that if I’m not having fun I don’t need to be out here,” she said. “That kind of came with committing to a (college) and knowing that I’ll be playing ball a lot and if I’m not enjoying it then there’s no point in doing it. I just want to be a good role model for the freshmen out here.”

The Warlassies finished last season with a 15-6 overall record (10-2 in conference), advancing to the third round of the state playoffs where they lost to West Lincoln. West Lincoln went on to lose the 2-A championship game by one run.

“We definitely want to go beyond the third round this year,” Johnson said. “And winning our conference would be huge too.”