CARY – After suffering a pair of two-run losses to Middle Creek during the regular season, Fuquay-Varina’s softball team felt pretty good after taking a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning during last week’s state 4A playoff game against its Tri-Nine Conference rival.
The Bengals’ happiness, however, lasted just a few minutes.
The Mustangs (19-4 overall, No. 2 seed from the Tri-Nine Conference) responded with eight runs in the bottom of the second inning and held off Fuquay’s comeback for an 8-5 victory in the third round, moving within one win of advancing to the final four series at Walnut Creek in Raleigh.
“When we didn’t get past Middle Creek and Apex for the conference championship, we knew we were going to see them in the playoffs and knew we’d have another chance,” said Fuquay coach Deb Clark, whose squad lost 13-11 and 5-3 to the Mustangs during the regular season. “We got up two early on them, but we had a bad at-bat and then we give up eight in the (bottom of the inning). We shut them down after that but when you play a team like Middle Creek, you can’t give up eight runs in an inning.”
Fuquay (14-5, No. 3 seed from the Tri-Nine) jumped on Middle Creek in the top of the first inning. Ashley Lindsey walked and moved to second on a bunt single by Paige Canfield. After a strikeout, Kelsey Ward singled between first and second and Lindsey raced home with the first run. Canfield and Ward each moved up a base on the throw home. Canfield then scored on a sacrifice bunt from Heather Radcliff, but Ward was thrown out at third trying to take the extra base.
The Bengals’ lead was short-lived.
Middle Creek sent 13 batters to the plate in the bottom of the second inning and scored eight runs – seven crossed the plate after two outs were recorded.
After Camille Hobson was hit by a pitch to start the frame, Radcliff – the Bengals’ left-handed pitcher – coaxed a fly out to second for the first out. Emily Franks then took a two-strike pitch into left field for a single and Jenna Powell’s single plated Hobson.
A liner to Lindsey at shortstop was the second out, but Megan Walker reached on a ball that fell between the mound and first base, allowed Franks to score. Alie Burghardt and Tyler Ross singled in runs, and Kasey Majette reached on a fielder’s choice when the throw to third was dropped, loading the bases. Hobson, batting for the second time in the inning, smacked an RBI single to left and Lauren Panella cleared the bases with a three-run triple after her foul pop-up was dropped. Radcliff walked the next batter before getting out of the inning.
“Hats off to Middle Creek. They put the ball in play and we had that one bad inning,” Clark said. “If we hadn’t had that bad inning, it was a 5-4 game for us.”
Lindsey doubled with one out in the third and Ashlyn Long walked with two outs, but Mustangs’ left-handed pitcher Majette got out of the jam.
Fuquay rallied with three runs in the top of the fourth, two of them scoring on a single by Caroline Abernathy and the other on a single by Lindsey – her second hit of the game. Megan Tarpey had a single and Radcliff and Canfield were hit by pitches, but Majette got a fly out to center and a groundout to third to end the frame.
The Bengals had one last chance to score when they put runners on first and second with one out in the top of the fifth, but Majette got the final two outs of the inning and then retired the Bengals in order over the sixth and seventh innings to seal the victory.