CLAYTON — The first home run of Madison Swiger’s softball career couldn’t have come at a better time for East Wake.
Swiger, a freshman who was the designated player for the Warriors on Thursday night, belted a three-run homer in the fifth inning to break open a close game with Clayton and East Wake went on to defeat the Comets 7-2.
The East Wake win created a logjam at the top of the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference. Clayton dropped to 5-2, 2-1 in the league. East Wake improved to 4-2-1, 2-1 in the league. And three other teams in the Greater Neuse had one league loss entering Thursday’s play.
“This was a big game for us,” East Wake coach Melissa Bell said. “Clayton is always near the top. This was a confidence booster for our girls.
“I have told the girls that’s how it always is in the Greater Neuse River Conference. The top four teams were so close last year that it could have been anybody’s (to win). I think it will be the same way this year.”
Swiger’s blast over the wall in left field was a no-doubter that easily cleared the wall, a special moment for the freshman.
“That was my first home run ever,” Swiger said. “It felt like it (was going to go over fence) when I hit it.”
The homer came in the top of the fifth of what had been a scoreless pitchers’ duel. Breanna Boggs led off the fifth with a single to center field and advanced to second on a groundout. An infield single by Megan Fullwood put runners at first and third and Boggs scored the first run of the game on an infield error.
The Comets got the second out of the inning on a fielder’s choice force out at third base, bringing up Swiger with two outs and two on. One swing later, she was in the first home run trot of her life – and she was so excited that she was jumping up and down as she rounded second base.
“It was a victory lap,” Swiger said.
As it turned out, it was.
Clayton scored two runs in the bottom of the sixth to pull within 4-2, getting a one-out single from leadoff hitter Lindsey Hodge and back-to-back two-out RBI doubles from Jenna Harris and Ashley Murphy.
East Wake added three runs in the top of the seventh to go up 7-2, getting four hits. Swiger had an RBI double and Jasmine drove in two runs with a double that hit the top of the fence in left field and bounced back into the field of play.
The Warriors finished with 12 hits, backing the strong pitching of sophomore Annabeth Watkins, who gave up five hits and one walk while striking out seven.
“This was a confidence booster for Annabeth,” Bell said. “I had been pitching half and half (with Swiger sharing the pitching duties) but when your pitcher is firing it and is into it and ready to win, you let her go.”
Fullwood, Swiger, Boggs and Haley Glover had two hits each for East Wake.
Clayton made it interesting in the bottom of the seventh, loading the bases on two errors and a walk. Watkins pitched out of the jam, however, stranding three runners.
“One characteristic of this team is they don’t give up,” Clayton coach Jay Westbrook said. “We battled all the way through. (East Wake) made some fantastic plays on defense. Credit East Wake. They had some timely hits and that’s the game of softball sometimes.”
The timeliest hit of the night also happened to be a first for Swiger, who has been hitting the ball well all season for the Warriors, Bell said.
“She has been close to the fence a lot,” Bell said. “That (homer) was huge. It was big for her.”
And for the Warriors.