WILMINGTON — A 4-0 shutout of Laney in the first round of the 4A state softball playoffs meant more than just a ticket to the next round for the East Wake team.
The win avenged an eight inning, 3-2 loss the Warriors suffered against the same opponent in the same round of the playoffs last season. It also set up a second-round playoff meeting and third game of the season between the Warriors and the Garner Trojans, the top seed from the Greater Neuse River Conference.
“It is like revenge. I don’t like to think in those terms, but we came down here this time thinking we should have won the game last year,” East Wake coach Melissa Bell said. “It’s good to win against a team we lost to last year, and I think we have the confidence after winning this game and we’re ready for the competition.”
East Wake (15-5, Greater Neuse River No. 4 seed) gradually dialed in on the tempo of pitches from Laney sophomore Shelby Cook, who’s tosses were slower than the Warriors grew accustomed to playing in a league with no shortage of ace pitchers. The Warriors showed they had fully adjusted by the sixth inning, when they scored all four runs of the game.
After Jasmine McAbee reached first on an error at second base, Breanna Archibald singled to left and Haley Glover busted a ball to center field to load the bases with one out. Ashlee Miller then smacked one dead up the left line to double and score McAbee and Archibald for the 2-0 lead.
East Wake reloaded the bases after the Buccaneers failed to make a play on a bunt by Kenan Bunn. That set the stage for Annabeth Watkins to score Glover and Lauren Miller to score Lauren Lynch, running for Ashlee Miller, before Laney produced a third out.
“We had to play nearly errorless ball to beat them because I knew their sticks were probably better than ours,” Laney coach Jim Fisk said. “We had that one bad inning, and that’s all that happened. Anytime you throw a couple errors in with three good base hits, it always gets you in trouble.”
Laney (12-9, Mideastern No. 2) never got a runner past first base in the final two innings – playing in with a full-game defensive tone set by the Warriors, who never allowed their opponent to reach third base.
That was much thanks to East Wake senior pitcher Lauren Miller, who struck out 11 of the 26 batters she faced, walked none and allowed four hits in the win.
“I had been in a slump the last few games,” Miller said, referring to three combined losses to league powers Clayton and West Johnston at the end of the regular season. “This was a good reminder to work harder.”
Bell said errors, not Miller, cost the Warriors those games. She used the Laney game as an example of what her team can do when it limits its miscues. The Warriors had one error against the Bucs that came in the bottom of the seventh and resulted in no damage.
Fisk hasn’t had a nine-loss team in the 15 years (12 as head coach) he’s been with the Laney program, but he pointed out there are no seniors on this season’s Bucs squad and just three juniors to lead a host of underclassmen. He considered the playoff game a good learning experience.
“About five of them on the field have never played in a playoff game until tonight,” Fisk said. “When you start making mistakes it starts getting you down, and (Miller) did a pretty good job for them on the mound tonight.”
Facing a rematch with Garner on Tuesday, Bell said her players would have to jump on the ball on offense and on defense.
“It’s going to take a game like we played last time, where we were focused and making plays, and it’s going to take us hitting the ball,” she said.
East Wake was responsible for one of Garner’s two losses in the regular season – a game the Warriors won 2-0 on April 19.