MORGANTON — The bottom portion of Wilkes County Post 31’s lineup came through when it mattered the most on Tuesday night at Catawba Meadows Park.
Katie Spears and Arden Wagoner, the final two hittters in Post 31’s batting order, connected on back-to-back base hits in the top of the fifth inning to give the Flashers a 2-1 win over Burke County in the first game of the North Carolina American Legion Lady Fastpitch doubleheader.
Kelly Nichols, Post 31’s head coach, was pleased to see Wilkes County finally get the timely hits it needed after watching the Flashers be unable to capitalize with runners in scoring position in each of the previous two innings.
“We finally got it. The bottom of the lineup paid off and came up big for us, getting the tying and go-ahead runs on, so we put some good hits together,” said Nichols. “I told the girls a lot of times that it’s contagious. It’s just neat to see because these girls don’t have any quit in them.”
The Flashers (3-2) had a chance to get on the scoreboard in the top of the third as Kennedy Collins (single) and Spears (walk) reached base with nobody out.
Collins advanced to third on a Wagoner groundout but came up empty when Sophie Nichols hit into an inning-ending double play.
After Elle Tanner gave the hosts a 1-0 lead in the third with an RBI double in the bottom of the third, Post 31 put together one last rally in the top of the fifth after Presley Dancy singled with one out.
Tanner then struck out Collins before Spears lined a double to right field to tie the game. Wagoner then singled to center field, scoring Spears and putting Post 31 ahead 2-1.
The rising Starmount sophomore also picked up the win inside the circle. She scattered seven hits and did not allow an earned run in a complete game.
“Arden did an outstanding job. I think she had only been at one practice with the girls and got to know them but for her to come in, first game out with the new team, was big,” said Kelly Nichols. “She pitched lights out, I mean you couldn’t have asked any more, and I hate that we couldn’t give her a little bit more run support, but we were able to get her enough to get the win.”
Tanner paced Burke County at the plate in the first game with two hits.
Game two: Burke County Post 21 4, Wilkes County Post 31 3
Wilkes County carried over the late-game hitting from the first game but Burke County used one big inning to salvage a doubleheader split Tuesday night.
Post 31 quickly jumped out to the lead in its first at-bat behind an RBI single from Gracie Proffit.
Paige Phillips made it 2-0 when she drove in Proffit with a double to center field. Phillips took third on the throw and nearly had an inside the park homer after an errant throw but was tagged out at home by Burke catcher Jazz Webb.
Phillips also pitched all four innings inside the circle as she allowed three earned runs on five hits with one strikeout but took the loss.
“I thought Paige pitched well but we just didn’t play defense behind her a few times, and Burke was able to get the key hits,” said Kelly Nichols.
Burke County (1-1) loaded the bases in the bottom of the third, and Myra Twitty cleared the bases with a double to take the lead.
The rising sophomore on the Western Carolina University softball team went 2-for-2 at the plate and scored on Bailey Bryant’s groundout to extend the advantage to 4-2.
“It was just one bad inning for us; but you have to tip your cap to them, they put some hits together,” said Nichols. “Burke played well, they hung around but they had the big third, bases loaded and we made a couple of miscues in the field that allowed them to get a couple of runs and advance some runners.
“That’s one thing that we’ll have to clean up a little on our part,” added Nichols. “But I thought we played a lot better defensively tonight, than we did last week against Hickory so we’re taking good steps in the right direction.”
Wilkes County made it a 4-3 game in its last at-bat when Sydney Ferguson grounded out to first base and scored Collins.
After Sophie Nichols, who finished with two hits, drew a two-out walk, pitcher Ashlyn Stillwel shut the door on the Flashers’ comeback when shortstop Chloe Gary forced out Nichols at second base for the final out.
Notes: After Wilkes County hosted McDowell Post 56 on Thursday, it’ll host another first-year program in Caldwell County Post 29 on the road next Tuesday. Post 21 hosted Watauga Post 130 Thursday and travels to Hickory Post 48 next Tuesday.