WENDELL — Harnett Central stung early and late, but East Wake numbed the pain with a balance of offense and defence to outlast the Trojans for a 3-2 softball win Tuesday.
Both teams were coming off encounters with conference bigwig Garner heading into the game.
For a team in the middle of the conference standings, Harnett Central (7-8, 4-6 Greater Neuse River 4A) considered a 5-2, ninth-inning loss to Garner on Monday a boost of confidence.
As another league power, East Wake (12-2, 7-2) issued payback for a prior loss to Garner with a 2-0 win on April 18, and Tuesday’s victory over Central left the Warriors within one game of second-place Garner.
Turning point: The bottom of the fourth inning.
Trailing by one run, East Wake took advantage of four Harnett Central errors to take a 3-1 lead. With one out and Aubrey McLeod on base, Kaitlin Glover beat a throw to first and then moved to second base as McLeod advanced to third on another failed throwout attempt by the Trojans.
A fielding error by Central’s Keykey Williams on a Caitlin Brown shot to center field scored McLeod and pushed Glover to third. The Trojans followed that miscue with a throwing error to first base after Breanna Archibald got the bat on the ball, allowing Glover and Brown to score the Warriors’ final runs of the game.
What worked: After a fielding error of their own, the Warriors were calm and collective when the Trojans posed a serious threat of tying the game, or more, in final frame of the game.
With one out and East Wake ahead 3-2, Central’s Natalie Stewart bunted the tying run onto first base. Erica Holmes then popped up a short shot to right field where the ball hit the turf after miscommunication between McLeod and Glover. But Stewart lost footing as she turned for third base and Archibald was able to run her down for the tagout between second and third.
“We got lucky (Stewart) got tripped up, because otherwise she would’ve been on third and we had one out,” Warrior coach Melissa Bell said.
With two outs, Caitlin Bryant took 10 pitches before grounding out to Warrior pitcher Lauren Miller to end the game.
What didn’t work: The two teams left a combined 13 base runners stranded.
East Wake left seven players on base and Harnett Central stranded six. Each team left two players at third base.
“That’s what I call growing pains,” Harnett Central coach Craig Rogers said. “We’ve had runners in scoring position. We just can’t get that one big hit, and it’s just leaving us frustrated.”
Bell had a similar take on the situation.
“When you’ve got runners on first and third, you’ve got to lay that bunt down,” she said. “Bunting is something we practice every single day, and they can lay a bunt down. But for some reason I can’t get them to lay them down right away in a game.”
Putting up numbers: Miller finished with 11 strikeouts against the 28 batters she faced‚ nearly hitting her 40-percent mark the Warriors have found comfort in several times this season.
Miller also led her team at the plate, producing singles on two of her three at bats.
Central outhit East Wake 7-4, but committed five errors to the Warriors’ three.
Mangum led the Trojans, going 2-for-3 including a triple and an RBI. Holmes added a 2-for-4 clip at the plate for Harnett Central.
The Trojans’ first run came in the first inning after Anna Bain batted a shot that hit Miller on the hand. Holmes, who had previously singled, was able to score on an errant throw intended to keep Bain from reaching first.
A Jessie Mangum slap to center field scored Bryant to pull Central within one run of the Warriors in the top of the sixth.
Missed chances: Annabeth Watkins nearly executed an inside-the-park home run in the bottom of the first, but was called out as she neared home plate on a controversial base-running call.
With two outs in the third inning, East Wake big hitter Haley Glover went to the plate with teammates Kenan Bunn and Ashlee Miller on first and second. Glover hit a deep fade to right field, but Central’s Morgan Sanderford made an athletic snag to leave Bunn and Miller stranded.