BOONE — Wilkes County Post 31 had nearly all of the right ingredients in place to sweep Watauga Post 130 on Friday night at Watauga High School.
Only one ingredient was missing — runs.
The two teams combined for only four runs in a split of the regular-season finale for both teams. The Flashers used an early run in the opener to pick up a 1-0 victory while Post 130 rallied to win the nightcap 2-1.
Post 31 closed out the regular season at 13-5 overall and 9-3 in Area I Division I play, finishing in second place behind Caldwell Post 392 (10-2).
Kelly Nichols, the Flasher’s head coach, was pleased with Wilkes’ play in the field — not committing an error in the doubleheader — but struggled at the plate.
Wilkes County left more runners on base in the two games (11) than it had hits (eight). In the second game, Post 31 stranded seven base runners.
“I don’t think we made an error in the field and they didn’t either, so, from a team standpoint, I thought we executed from that side of it,” said Nichols. “But on the flipside, from the offensive side, we had some hits, we just couldn’t get those timely hits that we needed to open it up and possibly have a big inning.”
Post 31 started off strong in the opener after Sophie Nichols and Paige Phillips, who went 2-for-3 to lead both teams in the first game, led off with back-to-back singles.
After a Gracie Proffit fielder’s choice moved Nichols and Phillips into scoring position, Nichols was forced out at home on a Kacey Triplett fielder’s choice.
Isabelle Curry staked the Flashers to a 1-0 lead when she reached on an error to score Phillips.
Curry also picked up the win inside the circle; the rising Wilkes Central sophomore allowed four hits (all singles), walked two and struck out six in five innings of work.
She also received a boost from the defense in the bottom of the second after Linley Garwood drew a one-out walk.
Curry worked around the free pass as she struck out Katie Willingham and then Proffit threw out Garwood at second base to end the inning.
“That was huge and Gracie made a great throw to Kacey; Gracie’s done a great job behind the plate, all of our catchers have,” said Kelly Nichols. “She’s been the leader on the team so it’s good to see her make plays like that.”
Post 31 attempted to pad its lead in the fifth after Kennedy Collins beat out an infield single and moved to second on a throwing error.
Collins took third on a sacrifice bunt from Sydney Ferguson but Watauga’s Cierra Burgess snagged a comebacker off the bat of Sophie Nichols to keep Collins at third.
The rising Ashe County senior then induced a popup from Phillips to end the inning.
Watauga (1-11) looked to force extras following back-to-back bloop singles from Willingham and Katie O’Bryan, but Curry settled down and struck out Mattie Smith to end the threat and the game.
Both teams had chances to gain the early lead in the second game but neither team could capitalize.
That was until the top of the fourth.
Celebrating her birthday on Friday, Curry led off the inning with a triple and then scored off Grace Presnell’s wild pitch to take the lead.
The Flashers had a chance to extend their lead after Presley Dancy drew a one-out walk and then reached third after Ferguson doubled.
But Burgess, who relieved Presnell before Ferguson’s double, induced a popup from Sophie Nichols.
Burgess picked up the win after pitching 1 2/3 scoreless innings of the relief and allowing just two hits.
Lipford and Presnell tied the game 1-1 with consecutive doubles but Post 31 had the potential go-ahead run on base in the top of the fifth when Triplett connected on a two-out double but came away empty as Burgess struck out Curry.
Burgess, who went 3-for-3 to lead both teams, represented Post 130’s winning run when she reached base on a two-out single in the bottom of the fifth. She scored one batter later on Marlie Stillwell’s game-winning single to center.
“We had some real hard hit balls but they went right to them and both pitchers for them made some good plays but that’s how it goes,” said Kelly Nichols. “We’re resilent and I told the girls that we’re very proud of their effort but unfortunately, for us to just score two runs in two games, we’re not lighting up the scoreboard on runs. Hopefully next week, when the tournament starts, we kick that door down and open it up a bit like we can.”
Post 31 will begin its run in the North Carolina American Legion Lady Fastpitch playoffs tonight at 7 p.m. as the No. 4 seed in the 10-team Area 1 field. The Flashers will face No. 5 Hickory Post 48 tonight at 7 p.m. at West Wilkes High School.
The Area 1 semifinals and finals are scheduled to take place on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively, at the higher seed. The finals are scheduled for Aug. 12-14 in Shelby.
Note: The second annual veteran’s night, which was scheduled for last Tuesday, was rained out. According to Post 31 Athletic Director Kerry Nichols, it will now be scheduled for tonight starting at 6:30 p.m. Veterans are asked to arrive at West Wilkes at 6 p.m. Each veteran will be escorted onto the field by a Post 31 team member and their name, branch of service and years served will be announced. They will also receive free admission to the game along with a free hot dog or barbecue sandwich and drink.