They were both so close.
Only a couple of key plays made the difference in Midway’s losses in baseball and softball in Friday’s second round of the NCHSAA 2A playoffs. The No. 5 Lady Raiders gave up three runs in the top of the seventh, losing 6-4 to No. 21 Providence Grove. And the top-seeded Midway boys battled back to tie the game and send it into extra innings but couldn’t get the right breaks to go their way, falling 4-2 to No. 16 East Bladen in eight innings.
It felt like Midway had been robbed at the last minute in the softball game.
“We led the whole ball game and lose it in the seventh,” said Midway softball coach Leigh Ann Smith. “Timely hits [made the difference]. We had some errors on some bunts that they had. An error in the first inning with a pitcher, an error right here at third base, that’s two runs they wouldn’t have had. It’s just ball. I mean, I’m disappointed, but we’ve had a heck of a season.”
Senior Erin Barefoot had one of her best games of the second, getting two hits, including a double, an RBI and a run scored to lead the Raiders (14-7).
“I’m so proud of Erin tonight,” Smith said. “Erin was clutch tonight. She was really focused.”
Senior Alyssa Wrench added a double, an RBI and a run scored. Rylie Williams had a hit and a run scored. Caitlyn Holland and Chloe Baggett each notched one hit.
Providence took an early 1-0 lead in the top of the second, but Midway immediately answered with a run in the bottom half. The Raiders tacked on two in the third and one in the fourth to take a 4-1 lead.
But the Patriots battled back, scoring two in the fifth to make it a one-run game, and scoring three in the top of the seventh to pull ahead 6-4. That rally gave them the momentum they needed to close out the game and take their second-straight upset win on the road.
It was the final high school game for Midway’s five seniors: Alyssa Wrench, J.J. Sankey, Erin Barefoot, Karlee Martin and Alexis Jackson. Wrench and Sankey started all four years on the varsity level. Smith said she was sad to lose this year’s group, but believes the returning bunch of players has a bright future.
“We’re coming back,” Smith said. “We’ll be back.”
Midway baseball coach Jason Fussell knew his team had their work cut out for them going up against East Bladen, a team the Raiders faced earlier this season in the Easter tournament at Terry Sanford. The Raiders escaped that game with a 5-4 win on a walkoff home run by Chandler Williford. They weren’t so lucky on Friday though.
“We just got snake bit every time,” Fussell said. “Our seniors did a great job. There’s nothing to hang their heads on. That’s the game. We’ve benefited from people making the same mistakes we made late in the game and it all happened to us in two innings. It is what it is. Our seniors did a great job. We were 21-2, nothing to hang your head on.”
Williford, Midway’s senior ace, pitched a gem of a game for the Raiders. The Campbell commit gave up just one earned run on eight hits while striking out seven over seven and two-thirds innings. Junior Eli Culbreth came on in the seventh after East Bladen had pulled ahead and struck out the one batter he faced.
Brayden Coats had two hits and an RBI to lead Midway at the plate. Williford also picked up two hits. Jaron Register and Cameron Barefoot each had a hit and a run scored. Carson Calcutt and Cameron Calcutt each had one hit.
“We were able to get people on,” Fussell said. “We just couldn’t do anything with the runners in scoring position or get them there.”
East Bladen broke the scoreless tie in the top of the fourth with a pair of runs. But Midway answered with a run in the fifth and a run in the sixth to tie it up 2-2, and even had a chance to walk it off in the seventh.
Brayden Coats led off the inning with a single and Carson Calcutt walked to put a runner in scoring position. With two outs, Cameron Barefoot connected on a sharp ground ball down the third base line, but the East Bladen third baseman made a diving stab to tag third for the final out of the inning.
East Bladen rallied for two runs in the top of the eighth to take the 4-2 lead. Midway still nearly mounted a comeback. Williford led off with a single, but his pinch runner was thrown out stealing second. Then Cameron Calcutt singled and Culbreth reached on a dropped blooper to put runners on. That brought up Drew Matthews, who hit the ball hard up the middle. The ball nearly snuck past the shortstop, but he was able to corral it, tag second and throw to first in time to turn the double play and end the game.
The loss was the last game for Midway’s five seniors: Chandler Williford, Carson Calcutt, Brayden Coats, Jaron Register and Henry Happel.
“They’ve done a lot,” Fussell said of his graduating class. “Three of them have been on varsity three or four years. They started off 13 wins in their first year and ballooned up to 21 wins this year. They’ve done a great job leading the team and they’ve been very valuable components for the last three or four years. They’re going to be sorely missed.”