CLAYTON — Heading into its pivotal game against fellow Greater Neuse River 4A Conference foe East Wake Friday night, the Clayton softball team anticipated a close battle similar to its 1-0 defeat over the same Warriors just a month before.
The rematch followed a similar plot line of a pressure-packed pitchers’ duel with very few opportunities to score runs.
And, just like in the original, a masterful Nicole Bond shut down the Warriors while the Comets came through with enough offense for a 2-0 win.
Bond and her counterpart, Lauren Miller, both gave their respective teams every chance to win the game with stellar pitching performances but it was a pair of early Clayton runs that put the burden on East Wake to stage a comeback that was not in the script.
The Comets (10-4, 8-3) took the lead in the bottom of the first inning as a leadoff walk coupled with a pair of Warrior defensive miscues allowed Mindy North to cross home plate.
“They are a great team and we knew we had to come out strong,” Clayton coach Kelli Stephenson said of the importance of getting the early lead over East Wake.
“We did it in the first inning and that built some confidence for the girls.”
That confidence grew even more in the third when Bond drove home Lindsay Hodge after Hodge had doubled to give the Comets the 2-0 lead.
Bond took over from there as the senior struck out 11 batters and allowed just two hits in the complete game shutout.
“All through my lineup, we are hitters,” said East Wake coach Melissa Bell. “We are not weak but we are showing weaknesses in some places and we’ve got to figure out what it is that’s getting in the way of success.”
Despite having their difficulties at the plate, the Warriors (12-3, 7-3) seriously threatened in the fifth.
Ashlee Miller led off with a double and was followed by a Haley Glover bunt single.
When Lauren Miller reached base after her bunt was fielded and held onto to prevent a runner from scoring, the bases were loaded with no outs.
But, as she has demonstrated before, Bond remained strong when the pressure was at its greatest. She struck out the next two batters and coaxed a soft lineout to end the inning with no damage done.
“She stayed strong; no worries,” Stephenson said with a grin, recalling her team getting out of a bases loaded, no out jam earlier in the season. “We’ve been in those situations before and we have confidence in the girls.”
Miller ended her night having struck out eight and allowing just the two runs on four hits in a solid effort to keep up with Bond’s pace.
“You just can’t win big games with four errors in the first two or three innings,” remarked Bell, pleased with the pitching performance of Miller. “You also are not going to win big games loading the bases with no outs and getting no runs.
“We’re a better team than that.”