NEW LONDON — The East Surry softball team fought till the bitter end, but the Lady Cardinals’ comeback bid against North Stanly fell just a bit short.
No. 5 North Stanly defeated No. 9 East Surry 5-4 in the fourth round of the NCHSAA 1A playoffs on Monday. The Cardinals scored three runs in the top of the seventh to make things interesting, but the Lady Comets (22-3) held on for the win and the right to face No. 2 North Stokes in the Western Regional Final later this week.
“I was definitely thinking we were about done,” East Surry coach Randy Marion said. “Crazier things in sports have happened before, and we gave ourselves a chance at the end.”
East Surry (22-7) entered the final inning facing a 5-1 deficit, and after two quick outs, things looked especially grim for the Cardinals. However, Bethany Clayton singled to left and Brooke Whittington drove her in with a double to right. Emily Cummings was the next batter and smoked a two-run homer over the center field wall to make it 5-4.
North Stanly quickly assembled inside the circle for a conference, but East Surry kept rolling with back-to-back singles by Autumn Lawson and Haley Jennelle. The Lady Cards had the tying run at second base, but North Stanly pitcher Sam Hogan settled down and fired three straight strikes to Sarah Marion to clinch the win.
“We knew coming in (East Surry) was a very good hitting ball club, so I wasn’t surprised they made us sweat a little in the seventh,” North Stanly coach Greg Speight said. “We knew at some point they were going to hit, I’m glad it just took them that long.”
The Lady Comets took a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first against the Cardinals’ starting pitcher, Cummings. Weslyn Almond and Keri Faulkner each recorded singles and scored runs off a RBI single from Heidi Smith, who crossed home plate on a wild pitch.
The next two innings weren’t much easier for the Cardinals, as North Stanly loaded the bases in the second and third. Cummings kept East Surry within striking distance though, getting out of trouble in both instances to keep the deficit at 3-0.
Still, it felt like East Surry faced a much larger hole because of the pitching performance on the other side. Hogan didn’t give up a base hit until an infield single by Clayton in the top of the sixth and was cruising right along until East Surry’s final rally. The Comets threatened in nearly every inning, while East Surry couldn’t get a runner past first base in each of the first five frames.
“It just felt like we were playing with fire,” Coach Marion said. “They kept getting runners on and we kept struggling at the plate, but we fortunately got out of it without letting them get a lot of momentum.”
Hogan was electric for North Stanly, striking out 15 batters in a complete-game performance. She wasn’t afraid to pitch on both sides of the plate, and forced East Surry to go chasing up in the zone numerous times with two strikes.
“Sam has just been so good for us all year, and it seems like as we keep getting in bigger games, she keeps pitching better and better,” Coach Speight said.
The Comets got a pair of needed insurance runs in the bottom of the sixth. After East Surry ended North Stanly’s shutout bid in the previous half inning, the Comets scored two runs to give themselves a 5-1 lead. The decisive run came off a costly East Surry error.
North Stanly now has its sights set on North Stokes in a best-of-three series to determine who gets to play for a state championship the following weekend. Coach Marion has battled both the Vikings and Comets this season, and he thinks the regional final should be a tight affair.
“I think it’s going to be a really good series,” Marion said. “Both defenses aren’t going to hurt themselves, and the pitchers throw a lot of strikes, so I think it could be three very low-scoring ball games.”
Reach Jackson at 415-4702 and on twitter @jacksonfuller16