Second-seeded Triton overcame defensive struggles to take an 8-6 win over No. 3 Lee County in the second round of the Tri-County Six 3-A Conference softball tournament at Harnett Central on Thursday and advance to the championship round.
“That was our worst defensive game all year,” said Triton coach Mark Whitman. “But we battled back, we did what we needed to do and we scored runs when we needed to score. We didn’t let it get away from us like it could have in that first inning. Harnett Central is always a black hole for us. We can’t get out of it when we get down. But tonight, the girls did what they needed to do. We hit the ball pretty much throughout the lineup. We did the small stuff tonight that made the difference.”
Junior Caroline Marshall started in the circle and took the win for the Hawks (13-5), yielding three earned runs on eight hits, one walk and one hit batter, with one strikeout, across six innings. Sophomore Gracyn Slaughter pitched the seventh to earn the save, giving up no runs on one hit, with two strikeouts.
“They should have never got the runs that they got, but I thought Caroline pitched well,” Whitman said. “I brought Gracyn in there at the end. I knew that could be the closer and we could do what we needed to do there at the end.”
Senior Alexis Howard and sophomore Kaila Cooney each had two hits, including a double, two RBIs and one run scored to lead Triton offensively.
Reagan Bradham had one hit and two RBIs. Ella Layn had one hit, one RBI and one run scored. Slaughter had a double and a run scored. Tatiana Muniz and Mary Kate Lucas each had one hit and one run scored. Brittany Ireland had one hit. Mackenzie Reid had one RBI. Kimah Warren had two runs scored.
“That’s what you’ve got to do,” Whitman said. “When you’re at this level, you’ve got to produce when you’re up there. Ella puts one in the 5-6 hole and beats the throw and we score a run. Mackenzie hits one backside and knocks a run in with two out. We just did the small stuff that you’re taught from when you’re 10-years-old. And everybody did that.”
Senior Greeley Hibbard had three hits, three RBIs and one run scored and senior Kamryn Bivens had two hits, one RBI and two runs scored to lead the Yellow Jackets (7-8).
Lee jumped out to the early lead in the top of the first inning when Diamond Hancock reached second on an error, advanced on a bunt single from Bivens and scored on a base hit from Hibbard. After Kayla Taylor was walked to load the bases, Bivens scored when Dayonia Brown was hit by a pitch.
Triton answered in the bottom of the first. Muniz walked, advanced on a steal and a Howard sacrifice and scored on a base hit from Cooney. After Ireland reached on an error, a base hit from Bradham scored Cooney and Warren, Ireland’s courtesy runner.
Savannah Brown doubled to lead off the top of the second and scored on a base hit from Bivens to tie the game.
Triton reclaimed the lead in the fourth when Layn reached on an error, Lucas singled and both scored on a double from Howard.
In the top of the fifth, Hancock reached on a bunt single, Bivens reached on an error on a sacrifice bunt and both scored on a base hit from Hibbard, who took second on the throw from the outfield and scored on a double from Dayonia Brown.
Ireland reached second on an error to lead off the bottom of the fifth and Warren, running for her, took third when Slaughter doubled. A ground ball from Reid scored Warren and a base hit from Layn scored Slaughter to put Triton back in front.
Triton added an insurance run in the sixth when Howard singled, advanced to third on an error and scored on a ground ball from Cooney.
Taylor had a two-out base hit for Lee in the seventh, but Slaughter came back with a strikeout to end the game.
Triton will meet rival Harnett Central, which beat Union Pines 7-4 on Thursday, for the third time this season in the championship game tonight at 6 p.m. The host was originally to be Western Harnett, the highest remaining seed in the conference baseball tournament, but because Western’s softball field will be in use by Western Harnett Parks and Recreation, the game will be at Harnett Central.