WENDELL — West Johnston’s softball team came out swinging the bat against East Wake and never stopped on Wednesday night in a 4-2 Greater Neuse River 4A Conference game.
The Wildcats, who stayed in the thick of the conference race with a 9-2 record, jumped on top in the first inning on an RBI double by Megan Gibbons and finished with nine hits against the Warriors.
Gibbons, a senior shortstop, had three hits, including a pair of RBI doubles, and junior first baseman Blair Koonce also had three hits and two RBIs – the pair pacing the West Johnston offense.
“The main thing we talked about was that we need to swing the bat,” West Johnston coach Warren Singleton said. “We have some folks that had not being doing well and came through tonight and that made a big difference.”
East Wake, which dropped to 8-4 in the conference and is solidly in fourth place behind Garner, West Johnston and Clayton, battled to tie the score at 2-2 in the third inning. But the Warriors had just two hits against West Johnston’s Christina Gower, a senior right-hander who struck out seven.
“West Johnston is the best hitting team we’ve seen,” said East Wake coach Melissa Bell. “We didn’t hit our best and we made some uncharacteristic errors. We just didn’t have enough hits.”
Turning point: The top of the fifth inning, when the Wildcats took the lead for good after East Wake had scored a pair of runs in the third to tie the score at 2-2. West Johnston got a one-out single from Gibbons to get things going in the fifth and Rachel Willis singled to left field with two outs. Koonce followed with the Wildcats’ third hit of the inning, a single to left-center that drove in Willis for a 3-2 lead.
“I really adjusted well to her pitching,” Koonce said of East Wake pitcher Lauren Miller. “I knew she was going to pitch me inside, so I just adjusted well and swung the bat.”
Highlight reel: The Wildcats added an insurance run in the top of the seventh when Willis tripled to right-center with one out. Willis hammered a line drive over the second baseman’s head and the ball rolled all the way the fence, allowing her to breeze into third base with a stand-up triple.
Koonce came up next and drove Willis in with a groundball to shortstop.
Unsung hero: For West Johnston, senior catcher Danielle Myers played a hard-nosed game. She took a foul ball off her knee early in the game and was later hit by a pitch on the same leg. She hung in there, reaching base twice on East Wake errors and scoring a pair of runs. Myers also caught a pair of would-be base stealers – the second when she threw behind the runner at first and Koonce completed the play with a throw to second for the out.
“She is a fighter,” Singleton said. “She wants it bad and she endured the pain. She is the person that calls the shots. She facilitates things, directs things and navigates for us on the field. She is a leader.”
East Wake coach Bell pointed to Aubrey McLeod, a junior who reached base twice on slap hits in the infield. In the third, she sent the ball between the pitcher and third base and Gower had to rush her throw to first and made a throwing error. In the fifth, McLeod reached on an infield base hit.
“I have got three girls that I have turned into slap hitters,” Bell said. “One of them in Aubrey and she made something happen twice. You put the ball in play, and you can get on base.”
Putting up numbers: West Johnston had a hit in every inning except the sixth, but the Wildcats still had a base runner in that inning when Myers was hit by a pitch with one out. Seven of the nine Wildcat batters reached base at least once, with Koonce, Gibbons, Myers and Willis each getting on base multiple times.
For East Wake, the biggest number was a negative one. The Warriors made three errors, twice dropping pop-ups by Myers to lead off and inning. Each time, Myers would come around to score on doubles by Gibbons, giving the Wildcats a 1-0 lead when she scored in the first and a 2-0 advantage when she crossed the plate in the third.
What worked: While the hitting was the show-stopper for West Johnston, the Wildcats also made enough plays in the field to keep East Wake at bay. The Wildcats made three errors, two of them coming in the third when East Wake scored its two runs. But West ended the inning of a double play that prevented the inning from being bigger – getting the second out of the inning on a comebacker to the pitcher and then catching Annabeth Watkins in a rundown between third and home when she tried to score from third on the throw to first.
For East Wake, the Warriors battled West Johnston for the entire game. Despite being outhit 9-2, the Warriors were down by only a run until the Wildcats tacked on their seventh-inning run.
What didn’t: West Johnston left runners on base in each inning, a total of 10 for the game. That allowed East Wake to stay close.
For East Wake, it was trouble with pop-ups in the infield. “We sometimes make throwing errors,” Bell said. “But we usually don’t have trouble with the kind of plays we did tonight.”
Going forward: The two teams will meet for the second time this season in the regular-season finale for both teams on Monday at West Johnston. East Wake pitcher Lauren Miller had been battling a stomach bug, Bell said, and wasn’t sure until Wednesday morning if she would be able to pitch.
“We would like to go up to West Johnston and come back with a ‘W,’ ”Bell said. “Hopefully we will hit the ball better and Lauren will have some good rest before that game.”
Best quote: “They made their own adjustments (at the plate),” Singleton said. “They kept their eye on the pitches and swung through it, had faith and believed that they could hit. That made the difference.”