Commuting long distances, especially several times over a short period of time, can often be a drag and almost always wears you out.
As I covered about as many miles of highway as I ever had in a high school post-season – a total of about 600 miles – for three playoff games from March 10-17, not once did such thoughts cross my mind. Each of the three games was well worth the drive.
There couldn’t have been better weather for a trip to the beach on Friday, May 10, when the East Wake softball team did just that for a first-round game against Laney High School in Wilmington.
The stage felt right, too.
East Wake (No. 4 seed) didn’t finish in as good a spot in the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference as Laney (No. 2) had landed in the Mideastern Conference. But Laney coach Jim Fisk took little time to indicate his team this year was a younger, less experienced team than the one he fielded when the two teams played in the first round in 2012 – a game Laney had won.
That said something to me about the status of the two conferences this season. Only one Mideastern team finished better than Fisk’s Bucs. Three teams finished ahead of East Wake in a league where any of the top-four teams could have entered the playoffs a No. 1 seed.
Fisk’s comments foreshadowed the way things played out. Laney played a scrappy first five innings, but the Warriors’ big hitters eventually complemented Lauren Miller’s pitching to produce a 4-0 win.
The next Tuesday, May 14, I traveled to Pittsboro under equally gorgeous weather conditions to cover the Corinth Holders baseball team’s game against Northwood in the second round of the 2A playoffs.
The atmosphere at Northwood, secluded in the woods just off U.S. Hwy 64, was different than anything I’ve experienced.
I’m used to covering 4A teams that play in large complexes or community parks. The Chargers’ stadium is the opposite. The bleachers back up into a tree line, making the field feel like a baseball oasis in the middle of the forest.
That, coupled with one of the better contests I’ve seen in a while, made for a most memorable evening. The Pirates dugout was as loud and distracting in the first inning as it had been all season, according to coach Jeff Parker – whose refusal to micromanage the team was a pleasure to observe.
Corinth, the No. 3 Northern Carolina Conference team, took a 4-0 lead in the first and looked to have the No. 1 seed from the Carolina 12 league shaken up. Each team scored again before the sixth inning, when a Northwood home run scored what would be the final three runs of the game for an 8-6 win.
Traveling to Laurinburg for the East Wake softball team’s third-round game on May 17 was an exciting ending to my spring sports coverage for the year.
The Warriors had just come off a 6-4 win over the Greater Neuse rival and No. 1 seed, Garner, and faced Scotland, a No. 2 seed that had upset Mid-South No. 1 Jack Britt to make it to the third round.
Considering what they had faced up to that point, I considered it a real possibility the Warriors might win that game. And after they took a smooth 1-0 lead after one go on offense and defense, I could have never predicted the Scots would return fire they way they did over the next five innings.
It wasn’t what East Wake wanted, bowing out of the playoffs after a 6-3 loss. But they refused to go out without a fight in the top of the seventh inning. Seniors had clutch hits when they mattered more than ever before, and that effort was another I won’t forget.
The third round appearance marked the deepest an East Wake softball team had reached in the playoffs in my six years with the Eastern Wake News. It marked the third time a Warrior softball team made the playoffs in my time, joining last year’s first-round stab at Laney and a 2008 appearance that ended in the first round at J.H. Rose in Greenville.