Only one Trojans softball team remained standing following Tuesday's eight-inning classic.
FOUR OAKS — Until the last out.
It's a mantra many softball coaches try to instill, but very few see the tangible results Ashley Gaines has had with her Harnett Central team lately.
Gaines' bounce-back bunch completed its second come-from-behind victory of the postseason Tuesday, taking down South Johnston 3-2 in eight innings to keep its season alive.
No. 7 seed Harnett Central (22-5) advances to Friday's 3A East fourth-round matchup at No. 3 Cape Fear (23-4) as part of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association state playoffs.
"Honestly, I feel like if we're down by one or we're tied going into the seventh inning, we're in good shape," Gaines said following her squad's seventh straight win.
"We've been doing it all season long ... they're not ready to give up, and you saw that."
In their postseason opener on May 11, Gaines' Lady Trojans overcame a five-run deficit in the sixth inning, then walked it off in the seventh.
Tuesday saw HC trail second-seeded South (21-2) by a run through five frames with Lannah Price's triple, then score on an error, being the difference.
But another sixth-inning rally provided the turning point for a youthful Central clan, who got key hits from two underclassmen.
"Not many batters have the ability to make an adjustment during the game," said HC assistant Olivia Scarborough
"But this group, even as young as we are ... its really something special to be able to have that mentality, and to be able to physically change things."
Central freshman Lauren Faulkner doubled on a line drive to left, bringing home Evan Blake to tie things at 1. Moments later, sophomore pitcher Kacey Fulcher helped herself with an RBI single to give the group its first lead, 2-1.
Fulcher (15-4) was just as clutch inside the circle, giving up just four hits and one earned run through eight innings of work.
South's veterans got to Fulcher in the bottom half, however, as senior ace Kennedy Byrd returned the favor with a double, then came around to tie it at 2 after Victoria James smacked a two-out RBI.
"I'm just really proud of what our seniors did, be leaders," said SJ coach Ashley Ennis.
Byrd, who lost just her second decision of the season, pitched another complete game with six strikeouts and the three earned runs.
After a scoreless seventh, it was Central's veterans who decided the outcome.
Senior center fielder Mikaela Goss opened the frame with her second hit, a lead-off single that ignited the sea of burgundy shirts draped around the stadium fences.
Savannah Bain got on after getting hit by a pitch. Fulcher lined out to Byrd on the next at-bat, and a heads-up play saw Goss quickly doubled off for the second out.
Two batters later, junior infielder Ashley Bliven connected on her second plop-shot of the contest, finding open grass just past the shortstop to allow Bain to score the game-winning run.
"We could put all nine of our girls in the batter's box and you don't know if they're gonna be swinging and attacking the ball or bunting the ball, because they're that good at what they do," Gaines said.
"They all pitch in and do what they're supposed to do when they need to."
South had the top of its lineup to the plate with three outs left in its season, but Fulcher retired the side and sealed the program's first fourth-round trip in over a decade.
"It was just a great season and a joy to coach these girls," said Ennis, who saw a 20-game win streak come to a close.
"The fabulous support here, and all the folks that came out for both teams got their money's worth. Somebody had to win and unfortunately, it wasn't us. Our girls don't have anything to be ashamed of."
Meagan Worley, who had the game-winning home run in the second round, added a hit for SJ Tuesday.
Ivanna Jones tied a game-high with two hits, while Blake and Sondra Berry also finished with a base knock for Central.
The winner of Thursday's contest in Fayetteville advances to the East regional final against Eastern Alamance or Person on Tuesday, May 24.
Donnell Coley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 910-230-2040.