Local softball teams set to tangle in third round

By DONNELL COLEY
Sports editor
Posted 5/16/22

Two Record area squads are set to square off Tuesday for a third-round matchup in this year's NCHSAA softball state playoffs.

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Local softball teams set to tangle in third round

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The big stage is set.

When second-seeded South Johnston (21-1) hosts No. 7 Harnett Central (21-5) Tuesday, both sides hope their stars continue to shine with a trip to the North Carolina High School Athletic Association Softball Championships fourth round at stake.      

Lady Trojans’ ace Kennedy Byrd (11-1) comes into the matchup following one of her best outings this year – a 12-strikeout performance through seven innings in Thursday’s second-round win over nearby rival Triton.

The Louisburg College signee is a four-year varsity starter and has provided wisdom for her young teammates in their first postseason action.     

“It’s nothing different than when we’re playing conference games in the middle of the season, don’t put so much pressure on yourself,” Byrd said of her pregame message ahead of last week’s 16-0 rout of Terry Sanford and 3-1 victory over Triton.

Thursday’s win was a rare come-from-behind effort that saw South trail until the third inning when Meagan Worley loudly interrupted a classic pitcher’s duel with one swing — a shot to center right that provided the 3-1 lead it would hold through the finish line.

The slim advantage was all Byrd needed, as she put up zeros the rest of the way en route to a 20th straight victory.

“Every time she toes the rubber for us and we need something big to happen, in her career, for the most part, she’s lived for those moments,” SJ coach Ashley Ennis said of his veteran two-way standout.

“All of the girls, Meagan, all of them just kind of see that and they rise to those moments, too.”

Ennis added that leading his Quad County Conference-winning squad against another All American Conference powerhouse, who tied Triton for the league’s regular-season title, will be just as challenging.

“They got a good team, couple of good pitchers ... and at this point, you’re gonna play teams that won their conference. There’s some heavy lifting left,” he said.

Central won the AAC tournament championship and is riding a six-game win streak, including wins over Union Pines and Currituck County in the first and second round, respectively.

HC coach Ashley Gaines has just three seniors, only one boasting reasonable playoff experience, and has been encouraged with their ability to learn on the fly.   

“They don’t know what kind of big games these are,” Gaines said of her bunch after the AAC-final victory over Western Harnett on May 5.

Gaines and company braved a competitive non-league schedule during the regular season, to which she specifically pointed to the Southern Alamance Easter Tournament.

There, her group beat a South Granville team that went undefeated in its league and recently advanced to third-round play of the 2A East bracket.

“To play some of those big teams, and to battle and do what we did there, it’s exciting to see what we’re gonna do (the rest of the playoffs),” Gaines said.

Sophomore slugger Savannah Bain has led the Central offense this season.

Sporting a batting average north of .500, Bain's trio of base knocks powered a double-digit hitting performance Thursday in the team’s 8-2 win over Currituck.    

Kacey Fulcher paces the group with 14 wins from inside the circle and freshman infielder Lauren Faulkner has provided another key arm of late, pitching four innings with four strikeouts against the Lady Knights.

South is a perfect 12-0 at home this season, while Central boasts a formidable 8-1 mark on the road.

First pitch from Four Oaks is set for 6:30 p.m. 

 

Donnell Coley can be reached at dcoley@mydailyrecord.com or 910-230-2040.

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