'They're ready to get revenge': HC faces Colts in 4th round

Lady Trojans return to regional semis for first time since 2010

By DONNELL COLEY
Sports editor
Posted 5/20/22

Harnett Central travels to Cape Fear on Friday night in what will be the program's first NCHSAA softball playoffs regional semifinal appearance since 2010.

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'They're ready to get revenge': HC faces Colts in 4th round

Lady Trojans return to regional semis for first time since 2010

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Every prizefighter knows how to roll with the punches.

Very few softball teams in the area have survived the proverbial 10-count as well as Ashley Gaines’ Harnett Central squad lately, boasting two comeback wins in three postseason outings this spring.

“They’re not gonna back down from a good fight,” Gaines said following Tuesday’s third-round win at South Johnston as part of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association state playoffs.

“They want people to know, ‘Hey, this is Harnett Central. We came to play and you’re gonna have to fight really hard to beat us.’”

No. 7 Central (22-5) looks to take down another 3A East heavyweight when it travels to third-seeded Cape Fear (23-4) Friday.   

The fourth-round matchup will be a first for the Lady Trojans since 2010, which Gaines feels is a testament to each player’s dedication.

“Making it this far with this particular group of girls speaks volumes of what those girls can do and their character more than anything,” she said.

“No one would put us here (in the fourth round). But we knew, we knew in February we were going to make some noise and play tough. ... It’s so awesome to see their hard work and talent shine through. They worked for it and I believe they deserve every victory they get.”

How they got here

A second come-from-behind win of the playoffs happened Tuesday, taking down South Johnston 3-2 in eight innings to keep its season alive.

In their postseason opener against Union Pines on May 11, the Lady Trojans overcame a five-run deficit in the sixth inning, then walked it off in the seventh.

HC trailed second-seeded South (21-2) by a run through five frames, but a fifth-inning rally provided the turning point for a youthful Central clan, who got key hits from two underclassmen.

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) has been the team's budding ace and in her first postseason action, she has given up just four earned runs while striking out 10 through 18 innings.

Meanwhile, it’s the two seniors who Gaines gives credit for “outstanding” leadership and being daily examples of how to operate an already-storied program that’s made multiple sprints to the final four.

Mikaela Goss and Ivanna Jones combined for three of the squad’s 10 hits against South.

Goss’ second base knock came in the all-important eighth when she smacked a lead-off single. Though she was doubled off by Kennedy Byrd a couple of moments later, junior infielder Ashley Bliven connected on her second plop-shot of the contest and found open grass just past the shortstop to allow the game-winning run to come home.

“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.”

What comes next

The selfless, unpredictable Trojans are relishing each moment of a run very few outside of Angier saw coming.

Standing in between them and a first regional final appearance in 12 years is an equally feisty Cape Fear, who shut out Central 4-0 on April 20.

The Lady Colts began their tournament trek with a run-rule victory over Northwood, then back-to-back close contests including Thursday’s nine-inning, 1-0 win against Richlands.

Junior pitcher Lex Glemaker (15-3) is the pulse of a stingy defense, boasting an ERA hovering below 1.00 with over 180 strikeouts. She struck out 12 and allowed just three hits in the third-round thriller.

With another top contender standing in its way, Gaines feels her scrappy squad is up for the challenge.

“Punch away every inning ... and play hard,” she said. “They’re ready to play Cape Fear and they’re ready to get revenge.”

The winner of Friday'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 dcoley@mydailyrecord.com or 910-230-2040.

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