Harnett Central wins AAC softball tournament

by | May 8, 2022 | Articles, Harnett Central

Ella Mangum drives in the game-winning run for Harnett Central.
(Dunn Area Sports Photo/John Lucas)

Western Harnett rallied to tie the score in the top of the seventh inning, but top-seeded Harnett Central won 7-6 on a walk off base hit from sophomore Ella Mangum that drove in freshman Lauren Faulkner in the bottom of the seventh in the championship game of the All American 3-A/4-A Conference softball tournament on Thursday night.

“A big thing we talked about before the game was, ‘Tonight, we’re family,’” said Harnett Central softball coach Ashley Gaines. “‘If something happens, have each other’s back and play hard.’ They worked hard to get here. We worked hard to get here. We knew it was going to be a battle. And we always scrap one-through-seven.”

Western Harnett softball coach Stephen Hales, a Harnett Central alum, said his team was riding momentum from a 5-3 win over No. 2 Triton on Tuesday.

“That win was a program-builder and a momentum-builder for tonight,” Hales said. “We played the best two games of the season Tuesday and tonight, in my opinion. I’m proud of the girls. They played their hearts out and that’s a good softball team over there (Central). I hate it had to come down on a couple of calls in the field and a momentum swing on a controversial call in the infield (in the fifth inning). But it happens.

“It is what it is. We could have scored more runs. We could have gotten more outs. But it was a good softball game from top to bottom. They’re a good team. They hit the ball and put the ball in play and they’re going to win a lot of games whenever they do that.”

Faulkner was the winning pitcher for the Trojans (19-5), giving up no runs on no hits and no walks, with one strikeout in one relief inning. Sophomore Kacey Fulcher pitched six innings, yielding four earned runs on eight hits and two walks, with three strikeouts.

“(Faulkner) is playing some of her best softball right now,” Gaines said. “It’s awesome to see her continue to work hard in practice every day, come in and big situations like that and just kind of breathe, relax and make big plays, I’m excited to see what she what she’s going to do the rest of the season and for the next three years.”

Junior left-hander Katie Neel pitched the complete game for the Eagles (13-8), yielding two earned runs on 10 hits, no walks and one hit batter, with three strikeouts.

“She has matured a lot this year,” Hales said. “This junior class I’ve got really kind of got the shaft because they’ve only gotten to play 16 ball games up until this season (due to COVID-19). We’ve played more ball games this year than we have in the last two. And they feel it. But she’s grown as a player and the whole class has grown. I’m just proud as heck of her. And there was no way in heck I was going to take her out of that ball game if we had gone to the eighth.”

Junior Ashley Bliven had two hits and two RBIs and sophomore Savannah Bain had two hits, one RBI and one run scored to lead Central at the plate.

Ivanna Jones had two hits. Mikaela Goss had one hit, one RBI and one run scored. Mangum had one hit and one RBI. Faulkner had a double and two runs scored. Evan Blake had one hit and two runs scored. Sondra Berry scored once.

Three juniors led Western at the plate. Ava Basolt had two hits and one run scored, Trinity Gaither had one hit and two RBIs and Sydney Jackson had one hit and two runs scored.

Courtney Yow had one hit, one RBI and one run scored. Ayla Hammonds had one hit and one RBI. Logan Griffin had one hit. Neel had a double. Emily Genthe and Gianna McDonald scored one run apiece.

Jackson led off the game with a base hit, advanced on a Gaither sacrifice and a passed ball and scored on a hit from Yow.

Central tied the game in the bottom of the first when Faulkner doubled and scored on a base hit from Bliven.

Griffin had a hit and scored when Alyssa Lauber reached on an error in the second inning and Yow reached on a fielder’s choice, stole second and scored on a Hammonds hit in the third to give the Eagles a 3-1 lead.

Bain led off the bottom of the third with a base hit, advanced on ground balls from Faulkner and Fulcher and scored on a base hit from Bliven.

In the bottom of the fourth, Berry and Blake each reached on errors. Berry scored on a base hit from Goss and Blake scored on a hit from Bain. An error on Bain’s hit allowed Goss to score to give Central a 5-3 lead.

There was a bit of controversy in the top of the fifth inning. Western had runners on first and third when Grace Bancroft hit a ground ball to second. Bain went to tag the runner going to second, who was ruled safe and Basolt scored from third. But after an appeal, it was ruled that the runner at second was out and Basolt had to return to third base, taking the run off of the board. The next batter struck out to retire the side.

Central added an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth when Blake singled, advanced on a bunt single from Jones, tagged up and took third on a fly ball from Goss and scored on a wild pitch.

In the top of the seventh, Neel doubled, Basolt had a base hit and Jackson walked to load the bases with no outs. Gaither singled to drive in McDonald, running for Neel, and Basolt and an error put Jackson on third, where she scored to tie the game on a wild pitch.

“We didn’t give up,” Hales said. “We could have tucked our tails in and we didn’t. We battled back. I wish we could have pushed a few more runs across with bases loaded and no outs, but it is what it is. We’ve got to get ready for Tuesday and to go win a state playoff game.”

Faulkner reached on an error to lead off the bottom of the seventh and stole second. With two outs on the board, Mangum hit a ground ball back up the middle to score Faulkner for the game-winner.

“I said, ‘Ella Mangum, I don’t know if you realized this, but you didn’t have a single hit all night (until the seventh), but you continued to do your job,’” Gaines said. “‘You continued to move runners. You were still somebody to be reckoned with in the lineup.’ But that big hit right there, to have somebody come in and just put a ball right there keeps everybody on their toes. And she hits the ball hard when she hits it, too.”

Harnett Central has a guaranteed spot in the NCHSAA 3-A state softball playoffs and Western Harnett is expected to also receive a bid to the playoffs. Brackets will be released on Monday and the playoffs begin on Tuesday.

Central’s Lauren Faulkner jumps for joy after scoring the winning run.
(Dunn Area Sports Photo/John Lucas)

Teammates celebrate around Ella Mangum after the walk-off win over Western.
(Dunn Area Sports Photo/John Lucas)

Western second baseman Saige Weidle throws to first for an out.
(Dunn Area Sports Photo/John Lucas)

Ivanna Jones makes a catch in right field for the Trojans.
(Dunn Area Sports Photo/John Lucas)

Evan Blake gets a base hit for Harnett Central on Thursday night.
(Dunn Area Sports Photo/John Lucas)

Katie Neel starts the seventh with a double for Western Harnett.
(Dunn Area Sports Photo/John Lucas)

Trinity Gaither drives in a pair of runs for the Eagles.
(Dunn Area Sports Photo/John Lucas)

Sydney Jackson scores the tying run for Western in the top of the seventh.
(Dunn Area Sports Photo/John Lucas)

The Harnett Central softball team is pictured above after winning the All American Conference tournament. Kneeling from left are Lauren Faulkner, Haleigh Moss, Ashley Bliven, Mikaela Goss, Ivanna Jones, Bethany Gonzalez and Ella Mangum. On the back row are assistants Scottie Scarborough and Olivia Scarborough, Sondra Berry, Savannah Bain, Evan Blake, Ella Prado, Hailey Wangelin, Kacey Fulcher and coach Ashley Gaines. (Dunn Area Sports Photo/John Lucas)



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