PILOT MOUNTAIN — The East Surry softball team entered its third-round showdown with Gray Stone Day feeling very confident about its chances. The Lady Cardinals had a great week of practice and were excited for the opportunity to extend their season in front of a home crowd.
A four-run first inning for Gray Stone Day didn’t deter the Cardinals’ faith, and after they erased that early deficit, No. 9 East Surry (22-6) pounded the No. 16 Knights for an 11-5 victory Tuesday to advance to the fourth round of the NCHSAA 1A playoffs.
“We were really hype before the game,” East Surry sophomore Bethany Clayton said. “I knew we were going to stay hype after that first inning. It got us down a little bit, but we stayed strong and made the comeback.”
The first four batters for Gray Stone Day (15-10) all came across to score. East Surry made three errors, and despite stranding the bases loaded, the Lady Knights held a 4-0 lead.
However, the Cardinals immediately chipped away at the deficit. Emily Cummings scored on a wild pitch in the first, Brooke Bowman crossed home in the second, and East Surry tied the game with a pair of runs in the bottom of the third.
“We knew we could score, so once we got a couple runs I think the girls really settled down,” East Surry coach Randy Marion said.
With momentum on their side, the Lady Cardinals seized control on the scoreboard in a five-run fourth inning. After two quick outs, Amber Brown reached base with a walk and Serena Pickens singled to right, bringing up Clayton and the top of the order.
Clayton made the Knights pay for their struggles with the bottom of the lineup, lacing a two-run single to right field. Clayton went 1-2 on the evening with three runs and two stolen bases.
After a walk by Brooke Whittington, Cummings drove in two more with a double down the right-field line. Cummings once again scored on a wild pitch, and East Surry led 9-4.
That fourth-inning rally encapsulated East Surry’s offense on Tuesday. Eight of the Lady Cardinals’ 11 runs came with two outs, and they’ve now scored 16 two-out runs in the past two games.
“It’s something we don’t practice,” Coach Marion said. “Anytime you get two outs, you relax a little bit… We’re a very good hitting team, so if you relax on us, we’re going to make you pay a little bit.”
East Surry’s offense was an efficient machine from top-to-bottom on Tuesday. Seven different girls scored runs and four Lady Cardinals recorded at least one RBI. Cummings went 3-4 with two runs and drove in three runs out of the three-hole, and Autumn Lawson went 3-4 with two runs driven in from the cleanup spot.
Cummings also turned in a terrific performance as East Surry’s starting pitcher. After giving up those four runs to Gray Stone Day in the first, the senior lefty settled down and logged seven strikeouts in seven innings pitched. Cummings gave up just one earned run and reached the 20-win milestone for 2016.
“I threw a lot of screwballs,” Cummings said. “I was working the ball inside and (Gray Stone Day) had a lot of left-handed hitters, so as a left-handed pitcher it made things harder for them.”
East Surry is guaranteed to hit the road for its fourth-round game on Friday night. The Lady Cardinals will play the winner of No. 5 North Stanly and No. 4 Lincoln Charter, whose game on Tuesday was postponed until Wednesday.
The Lady Cardinals admit they’d like to get a second shot at Lincoln Charter. The Eagles eliminated East Surry from the playoffs with an extra-inning 5-1 win in the third round last season.
“I think we would like to face them again,” Cummings said. “I think we’re all a lot more confident this year than we were last year.”
Reach Jackson at 415-4702 and on twitter @jacksonfuller16