For the second straight year the Tri-County Six 3-A softball tournament championship was decided by a meeting between Harnett County rivals Triton and Harnett Central. Also, for the second straight year, Central emerged with the victory, with a five-run first inning powering the top-seeded Trojans to a 6-2 win over the visiting second-seeded Hawks on Friday night.
“I think them coming out and scoring five runs in the first inning was a big punch instead of a little one,” said Harnett Central assistant Ashlee Crewe. “I think it kind of sucked the energy into our side and our momentum and they just kind of kept it and ran with it. They came out and kind of shut us down the rest of the game, but that really good first inning kind of carried us through.”
Triton coach Mark Whitman noted the Hawks consistently struggle in games played at Harnett Central.
“I’ve said it, that’s the ‘black hole’ we always get in over here,” Whitman. “We dig it and we can’t get out of it. The girls gave me all they’ve got. You take three bloop hits away and that’s three runs off the board and it makes a big difference. We hit the ball good enough to win tonight. They made the plays. We didn’t get any breaks. We never get breaks here. But the girls gave me 100 percent and that’s all I asked of them. Give me two hours of ball and then they can prom it (Triton has its prom on Saturday). And they did. They’re a good team. Take nothing away from Harnett Central.”
One night after pitching a complete game win against Union Pines in the second round of the tournament, Trojans (12-5) senior Fallon Wimberly went the distance to take the win over Triton, giving up one earned run on 10 hits and no walks, with two strikeouts.
“Defensively, I think they did a great job, but you can’t not recognize Fallon,” said Harnett Central coach Chelsey Cabe. “That has to come from your confidence on the mound. And to be honest, it was a game time decision who would be starting.”
“I told all three of them (Wimberly, Ansley Lee and Emily White), ‘Go to bed like you’re starting tomorrow, because I don’t know who’s on the mound,’” added Harnett Central assistant Olivia Scarborough.
Wimberly pitched a complete game in all three of Central’s wins over Triton this season and is now 6-0 against Triton in her varsity career.
“Keeping that team, a very good team, to four runs in 21 innings (the scores of the other two games were 6-1 and 4-1) is absolutely superstar status,” Crewe said.
Triton sophomore Gracyn Slaughter, suffering from the effects of a spider bite on her throwing arm, was the pitcher of record for the Hawks (13-6). Junior Caroline Marshall turned in a strong relief performance, yielding no earned runs on six hits, no walks and one hit batter, with three strikeouts.
“Gracyn had a spider bite and it got tight on her tonight,” Whitman said. “We were giving it a whirl and that is what it is. That’s on us (the coaches). She said she was good and we gave her the ball and that happens. But Caroline came in and shut them down. Proud of Caroline. She pitched last night and came in and gave me six good innings today. A lot of pressure and she did her job.”
A pair of seniors led Central at the plate. Kolby Medlin had two hits and two RBIs and Lyndsey Brewer had two hits, one RBI and one run scored.
Laurie Blackwell had two hits and one run scored. Wimberly had two hits, including a double. Mikaela Goss had one hit, one RBI and one run scored. Amaya Bell had a double and one RBI. Kylee Frailey had one hit and one run scored. Ivanna Jones and Ella Prince scored one run apiece.
Slaughter had three hits, including a double, and one run scored and senior Tatiana Muniz had three hits to lead Triton offensively.
Regan Bradham had two hits. Brittany Ireland had a double. Mary Kate Lucas had one hit. Ella Layn had one RBI. Tristan Ennis scored once.
“We hit the ball tonight, we just didn’t put them together,” Whitman said. “That’s how it goes sometimes. That’s ball.”
Central came out strong in the bottom of the first inning, sending the entire order to the plate. Blackwell and Frailey led off with back-to-back base hits and scored on a base hit from Medlin. Jones, running for Medlin, stole second and scored on a base hit from Brewer, who took second and scored on a Goss single. Bell then doubled to score Goss for a 5-0 lead.
Triton got on the board in the top of the second when Slaughter doubled, advanced on a base hit from Bradham and scored when Layn reached on a fielder’s choice.
In the top of the fourth, Ireland doubled and Ennis, her courtesy runner, took third on a bunt single from Slaughter and scored when Bradham reached on an error.
Central added one more run in the bottom of the fifth when Wimberly singled and Prince, her courtesy runner, advanced on a passed ball and a ground ball from Ansley Lee and scored on an errant pickoff attempt.
Central has an automatic bid to the NCHSAA 3-A state playoffs and Triton is expected to receive an at-large bid. Both have a chance of hosting first-round games, but will not find out for certain until seeding is completed on Monday. The playoffs begin on Tuesday.
After starting the season 0-4, Harnett Central has won 11 of its last 12 games heading into the playoffs.
“I hope they take this momentum and run with it,” Crewe said. “They are playing the best that they can right now and if they live there, I’m anxious to see how far they make it.”