Harnett Central clinched the Tri-County Six 3-A Conference regular season softball championship in dramatic fashion Wednesday, taking a 2-1 win over visiting rival Triton when Anna Ausley drove in Amaya Bell with a walk off single in the bottom of the seventh inning..
The victory was part of a varsity sweep for the Trojans, who took an 8-1 baseball win and a 5-1 triumph in girls soccer
“It feels great,” Ausley said. “When I was on deck, I was praying to God, ‘Let me get a walk off hit here.’ And I went up and I got one.”
Central softball coach Lauren Taylor noted the difference in the team from the beginning of the season.
“They’ve really bonded together and bought in to what we’ve been trying to teach and work on,” Taylor said. “It all came together and we were able to pull out a win and get a conference championship.”
Triton softball coach Mark Whitman lamented the nine runners the Hawks left stranded on base.
“We left way too many runners on,” Whitman said. “I think nine or 10 runners in scoring position with less than two outs. Lyndsey Brewer played lights out in center field (for Central). You take her out of the game and six or seven more runs score. We just didn’t execute when we needed to execute. That was the big thing. Should we have won this ball game tonight? Absolutely. We played good enough to win. Leanna (Whaley) pitched good enough to win. But they got it when it counted and that’s what it’s about.”
Fallon Wimberly pitched the complete game to take the win for the Trojans (12-8, 9-0 TCSC), giving up one earned run on nine hits and one walk, with three strikeouts.
Behind Wimberly, center fielder Lyndsey Brewer and left fielder Kylee Frailey were a major factor for the Trojans, coming up with multiple big plays to rob Triton of potentially run-scoring hits.
“It’s Triton. They’re our rivals,” Brewer said. “We always want to beat them. We knew we had to make plays to win.”
“We knew we had to win this game to clinch conference champs,” Frailey said. “We wanted to play as hard as we could, 100 percent for every ball.”
Leanna Whaley also went the distance in the circle for the Hawks (15-4, 7-2), yielding two earned runs on five hits and two walks, with three strikeouts.
Kolby Medlin had a home run and Ausley had one hit and one RBI to lead Central offensively.
Wimberly, Brewer and Alexis Carroll had one hit apiece. Bell scored once.
Kaila Cooney had two hits, including a home run, one RBI and one run scored to lead Triton.
Kathryn Elliott had two hits, including a double. Brittany Ireland had a double. Haley Hicks, Alexis Howard, Hayden Smith and Samantha Herring had one hit apiece.
Prior to the game, Central recognized three seniors: Alexis Carroll, Michaela Cabe and Tanner Williford.
Cooney gave Triton the early lead with a solo home run in the top of the second inning, but Medlin answered with a solo shot in the bottom half to tie the game.
Triton threatened in the top of the fifth when Hicks walked and Howard and Cooney singled to load the bases with one out. But a fly out to left and a pop-up to the mound retired the side with no damage done.
Triton had momentum heading into the seventh after turning a big 6-3-5 (Howard-Allure Smith-Cooney) double play to end the sixth, but three fly outs retired the Hawks in order.
Medlin drew a walk to lead off the bottom of the seventh and Bell, her courtesy runner, advanced on a Brewer sacrifice. After Frailey drew a walk, a base hit from Ausley brought Bell home to give the Trojans the game and the conference title.
“Got to get it past the infield,” Ausley said of her mindset. “That’s really it. Anything past the infield, fast runner on second gets home pretty easily.”
Harnett Central’s last conference title came in 2015. Williford was the lone freshman on the varsity team that year and Taylor was still an assistant (she was promoted the following year after the retirement of then-head coach Craig Rogers). That year, the Trojans, a 4-A program at the time, reached the third round of the state playoffs, where they were edged 5-4 by eventual state champion D.H. Conley, another school that returned to the 3-A level this year.
Though no longer in the running for the regular season crown, Triton still has a lot at stake when the Hawks host Harnett Central for senior night Thursday. Triton either needs a win or a Western Harnett win over Union Pines to claim sole possession of second place and the other first-round bye in next week’s conference tournament.
“Still a lot at stake tomorrow,” Whitman said. “I told them ‘Don’t be flat. Come out ready to play.’ We’ve just got to do that.”
Walks help baseball Trojans
Central also had a successful Senior Night on the baseball diamond.
Central baseball coach Lance Honeycutt, who played high school ball at Triton, was quick to compliment the Trojans’ opponents Wednesday and noted the similarity in the two teams’ seasons.
“Joey (Miriello) coaches a great team,” Honeycutt said. “Their record does not reflect the hard work they put in. Those guys can play some baseball. They’ve got the same woes that we do. The ball will just not fall their way sometimes. It has not fallen for us either. I thought we played good baseball. I thought we took advantage of the times when they gave us runs. But we still have our problems with scoring runners on base with less than two outs. You get that done, it’s a different season for us. We’ve lost eight games by one run because we’ve left runners on base in situations that we should have hit the ball.”
Triton baseball coach Joey Miriello cited the nine walks and one hit batter issued by Triton’s pitchers as the major factor in the loss.
“It was a pretty good ball game there for, I guess, the first four or five innings,” Miriello said. “We put a few runners on base and they capitalized and struck in some runs. I don’t think we played bad. (Baker) Nelson, to me, is the best pitcher we’ve faced all year, hands down. He’s got great stuff. I thought our guys battled against him and we hit the ball hard at times. We just hit it right at them and they made plays. That being said, at times, he overpowered some of our guys. Defensively we played well enough to win. We just can’t afford to put runners on base. That was the difference in the game.”
Both seniors pitched for the Trojans (6-11, 4-5) in the contest. N.C. State signee Baker Nelson pitched six innings to take the win, giving up one earned run on four hits and two walks, with 11 strikeouts. Paul Gervase pitched one inning, walking one batter and striking out three.
Gervase had two hits and two runs scored. Jared Raynor had two hits, including a double, and a run scored. Nelson had two hits and one run scored. Austin Swan had one hit and one run scored. Conner Mangum had one hit. Johnny Grizzard scored twice. Jackson Yarbrough scored once.
Colton Neighbors had two hits, including a double, Grayson Bradham had one hit and one run scored and Josh McMillan had one hit for the Hawks (2-18, 1-8).
Prior to the game, Central honored two seniors: Baker Nelson and Paul Gervase.
Both sides will be looking to pick up momentum heading into next week’s conference tournament when they meet again at Triton Thursday.
“We’ve got to see their best tomorrow at their place, which is very hostile,” Honeycutt said. “So, we’ve got to come ready. That’s the bottom line. If we don’t come ready, they’re going to beat us.”
“Hopefully we come out tomorrow and play well enough to at least compete,” Miriello said. “Compete is what we try to do every night. Hopefully we play well enough to get a win. But if not, we need to do something to have some momentum going into next week. It’s senior night, so we’ll play all our seniors. With them in there, hopefully our boys will play hard for them.”
Barnes leads HC soccer
Central was led by four goals from Braelyn Barnes in girls soccer. Zoraida Chavero had Triton’s goal.
The Hawks host the Trojans for Triton’s Senior Night tonight.