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On a cold, windy night for softball, the championship maturity of Southern Nash High was put to the test in the middle innings against Hunt on March 26.
With the Ladybirds holding an 12-2 fifth-inning lead, Hunt evaded defeat via the 10-run rule by stringing together five hits and pushing across a pair of runs. But Southern Nash’s offense didn’t relent, getting two more runs in the sixth inning and withstanding the Lady Warriors’ final flurry in a 14-6 victory in the first meeting of the 3-A Big East Conference rivals since the Ladybirds ousted Hunt in the first round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association playoffs last spring.
Junior right-hander Carrigan Ewers pitched a complete game to keep the Ladybirds (7-2), the defending Big East regular-season and tournament champions, unbeaten in league play through three contests. Hunt, which had nine of its 14 hits against Ewers in the final three innings, dropped to 3-5 in all games and 1-1 in Big East play.
At the plate, Ewers supported her own cause by going 3 for 4 with a solo home run in the fifth, She singled home a run in the second and lashed an RBI double to boost the Ladybirds’ cushion in the sixth.
“We talked before we came over here,” Southern Nash head coach Scott Collie said. “I told the girls I wanted them to play like a championship team tonight. Really play mature, no matter what happens. Anytime we play Hunt, it’s a rivalry, and so many of the girls know each other from playing travel ball. I felt like we’d be really ready to play, but I was really worried about us being too ready to play. I thought for the most part, we did a good job of that.”
Indeed, while Southern Nash displayed its offensive poise at the plate, the Lady Warriors did the exact opposite in the field. Hunt was guilty of seven errors, and 11 of Southern Nash’s 14 runs were unearned.
Hunt led early on a safety squeeze by senior Allyson Matthews that allowed junior speedster Bri Tucker to score, but the Ladybirds promptly tied it on sophomore Alissa Bailey’s run-scoring single in the bottom of the first.
Southern Nash batted around in both the second and third innings, posting five runs in the second and three more in the third — all unearned. Two more unearned runs crossed for the Ladybirds in the fourth as they increased the lead to 11-2 entering the bottom of the fourth. Tucker, who was 4 for 4 to pace the Lady Warriors at the plate, had a solo homer to right center in the third.
“I had to stop counting,” Hunt head coach Miguel Hall said of his team’s defensive miscues. “They had probably 11 unearned runs. It was up there. You cannot beat a quality team like this that’s very solid, and with good pitching. If we don’t keep the score down low, Carrigan ain’t going to give up much anyway.”
Hunt twice evaded the run rule in the fifth and the sixth. Madison Mercer, a freshman, slapped run-scoring singles in both innings as part of a 3-for-4 effort. The Lady Warriors actually outhit Southern Nash 14-13, but the Ladybirds limited their defensive lapses to just two in the bottom of the seventh.
“I feel like we weren’t at our best,” Ewers said. “But we worked through it and pulled through.”
Hunt sustained a potential long-term loss in the sixth inning when sophomore centerfielder McKenzie House dove attempting to snare Ewers’ RBI double. She came up in pain and had to be helped off the field holding her ribs.
“The trainer thinks she broke her rib,” Hall said. “That would be a big loss if that did happen. Hopefully, she’ll get X-rays and we’ll see.”
Senior Brittany Glover started and took the loss for Hunt, lasting 1 1/3 innings and allowing four hits. However, only one of her five runs were earned.
“We’ve got to hit the ball and make less errors,” Tucker said.
For Southern Nash, sophomore Taylor Bailey had three hits and added an RBI double in Southern’s five-run second. She later drove in another run in the fourth. Sophomore Ricki Bartley and junior Elisabeth Collie each tallied two hits and drove in one run each.
But are the Ladybirds prepared to be the hunted within Big East play?
“Last year, I think we kind of came out of nowhere,” Collie said. “I think everybody was looking at Fike to start with, and we snuck up on people last year. I told our kids back in the fall when we were having offseason workouts, we’re going to have a target on our back. And we’re going to get everybody’s best shot, and we’ve got to work to be mature enough to handle that. That’s still a work in progress. But, we’re getting better.”