DANBURY — Make it 24 and counting for the North Stokes softball team.
But win No. 24 came by just the narrowest of margins.
East Wilkes gave the top-seeded Vikings everything they could handle for six-plus innings on Tuesday night. But North Stokes rallied in its final at-bat of regulation, and then again in extra innings to post a 4-2 win and advance to the fourth round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 1A playoffs.
The Vikings tied the game in its final at-bat of regulation when Sierra Hubbard scored on a wild pitch and senior Lora Wood hit a walk off, two-run home run to dead center field to win it an inning later. It was Wood’s fifth home run of the spring.
When asked after the game if there was any doubt going into the bottom half of the seventh, North Stokes Head Coach Jeff Frye didn’t feel there was any.
“Not really. I just know that we were going to have to fight for it and throughout the whole time, we hit it spotty, not hard-hit routine plays that they can catch — we just fought the entire game and that shows maturity,” said Frye. “The bunt (from Autumn Martin) didn’t go down and (Wood) just came up and mashed one. I’m proud of her, that’s a walk off, big-game hit.”
The defeat ended the Cardinals’ season at 17-8 but Head Coach Derrick Hill couldn’t help but smile after the game, knowing that East held its own against who he felt was the toughest opponent the Cardinals had played all year.
Prior to Tuesday, North Stokes, which is currently ranked No. 1 in the state for 1A according to MaxPreps, was batting nearly .450 as a team.
“We had them on the ropes for six and a third innings and that’s why they’re ranked number one in the state because they battled. But we pushed them to their limit and it’s the best game we’ve played all year,” said Hill. “I couldn’t be prouder of my kids. It’s probably the best that any team that I’ve had at East Wilkes has played.
“What more can you ask for going into the seventh inning with a 2-1 lead against the number one team in the state on their field. Are we disappointed? Absolutely, but disappointment is different than coming over here and laying an egg.”
Down 1-0 in the top of the third, Krysta Prevette drew a one-out walk and took second on a passed ball. The junior advanced to third on a bloop infield single from Alexis Lester, setting up an RBI single from Lyric Ryan.
The game remained tied until the top of the fifth when Lauren Rakes homered to straightaway center field for her eighth long ball of the spring and gave the No. 8 Cardinals a 2-1 lead after five complete.
Rakes kept the potent Vikings’ lineup in check despite allowing four runs (two earned) on six hits; she walked one and struck out six.
Lester and Macie Bell paced the Cardinals at the plate with two hits apiece.
“Lauren pitched her butt off and she hits a home run to put us ahead and we thought we had a chance coming over here,” said Hill. “The kids bought into what we were trying to do. I told them that I’ve never had a team, in my career, that I’ve been more proud of.”
The Cardinals (17-8) had a chance to tack on some insurance runs in the top of seventh after loading the bases with two outs behind singles from Prevette and Lester, sandwiched around an intentional walk to Rakes.
But North Stokes’ Autumn Martin kept it a one-run deficit by inducing a fly out from Ryan.
The Vikings loaded the bases in their final at-bat of regulation but pinch runner Grace Yarborough was forced out at home on a fielder’s choice from Megan Bibee. Hubbard, who reached on an error earlier in the inning, scored on a Rakes wild pitch to tie the game. Rakes bounced back and got Carley Gravely to fly out to second base.
After East went three up, three down in the top of the top of the eighth, Reid Hawkins represented the potential winning run as she hit a lead-off single, setting up Wood’s walk off. Wood and Hawkins had two hits apiece for North Stokes, who will face South Stanly — the last team to defeat them — tonight.
The No. 2 Rowdy Rebel Bulls defeated the Vikings 3-2 in the fourth round of last year’s state playoffs.
“We had 15 pop-ups and 10 of them in the infield last year,” Frye said about last year’s game. “We didn’t hit the ball well and I feel like we’re going to be more prepared for what they’re bringing to us — it’s still going to be a good game though. It’s going to be butting heads all the way through.”