The Wilkes County Post 31 softball team nearly pulled off a nonconference sweep of the defending North Carolina American Legion Lady Fastpitch Western Regional champions on Thursday night at West Wilkes High School.
Post 31 picked up a convincing 9-3 win over Hickory Post 48 in the opener and were leading going into the top of the fifth inning of the second game.
But Hickory rallied to tie the game in its at-bat and came through late in extra innings to post a 5-4 win by capitalizing on three Wilkes County errors.
“I thought offensively, we hit the ball much better than we did against Davidson last week,” said Post 31 Head Coach Kelly Nichols. “But defensively, we made some errors that extended innings and anytime you extend an inning, especially against a good team like Hickory, sometimes they make you pay.”
The Flashers (2-1) quickly jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the second game behind RBI base hits from Isabelle Curry (single) and Kennedy Collins (double) in the second inning.
But Hickory (1-1) chipped away at the deficit, scoring twice in the fourth inning and put itself in great shape to tie the game an inning later.
Mayson Lail, Post 48’s No. 7 hitter reached on an error to start the fifth; her courtesy runner, Shi Pope took second on a Paige Phillips wild pitch. Pope advanced to third on Kaitlyn Britton’s groundout and tied the game 3-3 on an RBI groundout from McKenzie Deal, forcing extra innings.
Playing by international tiebreaker rules (where the last batter from the previous inning starts on second base) both teams scored in the sixth inning. Post 48’s Emma Lay started the top of the seventh on second and Madison Rowe sacrificed her over to third. Lay scored on Payton Goble’s RBI double to give the visitors a one-run lead.
Curry started the bottom of the seventh on second and took third on Elizabeth Church’s sacrifice bunt. But the rising Wilkes Central sophomore was stranded on third as Lail, who relieved Goble inside the pitching circle in the third inning, induced a pop out from Phillips and struck out Presley Dancy to end the game.
Lail earned the win as she allowed just one hit — a double to Gracie Proffit in the third — and struck out five in five innings of relief.
“I thought we had some opportunities and just came up a little short but I thought the girls fought hard, even when we went up to international tiebreaker rules,” said Nichols. “We were a hit away from winning the thing but sometimes it goes that way.”
The loss spoiled a solid outing from Phillips. The rising West Wilkes junior allowed just two hits and no earned runs with three strikeouts in five innings of work but received a no-decision.
Curry pitched in both games, picking up the win in the first game with a complete-game effort but took the loss in the nightcap despite striking out four.
“Both pitchers pitched extremely well, they kept us in the ballgames all night and that’s all you can ask for,” said Nichols. “They keep us in the ball game and it’s up to us to put hits together and score some runs so they definitely gave us an opportunity, so definitely pleased with their effort.
“They had multiple pitchers so they could go two or three (Hickory used four different pitchers in the doubleheader) and that’s one luxury that we don’t have currently,” added Nichols. “I love the fight that the girls had and hopefully they can build off this.”
Hitting was center stage for the Flashers in the first game as they pounded out 11 hits after mustering just five against Davidson in their season opener on May 31.
Post 31 got on the scoreboard first in the bottom of the second with an RBI single from Phillips. Collins plated two runs with a single and then scored from first on a two-run double from Katie Spears to extend the advantage to 5-0.
Proffit (groundout) and Kacey Triplett (single) also drove in runs in a seven-run second inning.
“I couldn’t have asked for anything better offensively. We hit the ball well, we moved runners, the girls had great at-bats,” said Nichols. “I can remember a couple of girls had nine and ten-pitch at-bats, fouled off a bunch of balls and just made the pitcher work and you love to see that, especially to a team like this.”
After the Flashers pushed the lead to eight in the third with a Sophie Nichols RBI single, Post 48 scored twice in the top of the fourth. But Proffit got back one of those runs in the bottom half of the inning with a no-doubt solo home run to straight away center field.
Triplett, Curry and Phillips finished with two hits apiece in the first game for Post 31, which will return to action tonight with a trip to Burke County to face Post 21. The Flashers return home Thursday to face first-year program McDowell Post 56.
Post 48 will open up its home schedule at Lenoir-Rhyne University tonight against North Gaston Post 266.