For the third time in the past eight days, a softball game between Harnett County rivals Triton and Harnett Central was decided by one run with a game-winning play in the final inning. On Thursday, the Trojans edged the visiting Hawks 4-3 on a walk off hit from Lyndsey Brewer that scored fellow junior Fallon Wimberly to win the championship game of the Tri-County Six 3-A Conference softball tournament.
“I kind of struggled all night and just knew this was my chance to do something when it really mattered,” Brewer said. “I knew I had to get up there and, if anything, put it in play. I hit it hard enough and it got through.”
Triton coach Mark Whitman saw inability to hit with runners in scoring position as the common theme in all three losses to Central.
“We didn’t hit,” Whitman said. “I’m proud of the girls. We did good. We’ve got no luck against them. We just didn’t hit. Bottom line. We left runners stranded. We didn’t hit like we needed to hit. We just needed to hit the ball and that’s something we didn’t really do.”
Harnett Central (14-8) went unbeaten in conference play this season and won both the regular season and tournament championships.
Central’s last four games have been one-run wins, with a different Trojan driving in the go-ahead run in the final inning each time.
“I feel like we’re really coming together,” said Central softball coach Lauren Taylor. “We’re really starting to buy in. We’re really fortunate as a team to have multiple girls step up and really work together to get the wins. The last four games have come down to executing and getting the job done in the end. They’ve really been able to focus, buy in and do their jobs and we’ve come out successful. They fight all the way to the end and I’m so proud of them for that.”
Wimberly was the winning pitcher in all three meetings with Triton this season. In two innings of relief Thursday, she gave up no runs on one hit, with one strikeout.
“She works hard,” Taylor said. “She comes out here and she knows what she has to do. She tries to establish her zone and has been very successful doing that.”
“I think it’s everybody playing harder against Triton because they’re our rivals,” Wimberly said. “It’s always great to have a strong defense behind you when you start pitching. I know I have to throw hard and I know they can all hit the ball, so I have to throw the pitches they’re either going to bloop or pop-up.”
Starter Ansley Lee went five innings, giving up two earned runs on six hits and two walks, with two strikeouts.
Freshman Gracyn Slaughter pitched the complete game for Triton (17-6), yielding four earned runs on 10 hits and three walks, with two strikeouts.
Tanner Williford and Kolby Medlin each had two hits, including a double, and one RBI and Alexis Carroll had two hits and one run scored to lead Central at the plate.
Brewer and Shelbie Gill each had one hit and one RBI. Kylee Frailey had a triple and one run scored.
Freshman Kaila Cooney led Triton with two hits, one RBI and one run scored.
Brittany Ireland had one hit and one RBI. Slaughter and Haley Hicks each had one hit and one run scored. Alexis Howard and Leanna Whaley had one hit apiece.
In the bottom of the third inning, Carroll and Wimberly singled with one out and Williford reached on a fielder’s choice before Medlin singled to score Wimberly to put the Trojans on the board.
Frailey added another run in the fourth, tripling and scoring on a ground ball from Gill.
In the top of the fifth, Slaughter reached on a fielder’s choice, advanced on a Hicks single and scored on a Cooney single, with Hicks scoring on an error on the same play that put Cooney on third. Cooney beat the throw home when Ireland reached on a fielder’s choice to give Triton a 3-2 lead.
But Central responded in the bottom half of the inning when Carroll singled and scored on a double from Williford.
In the bottom of the seventh, Wimberly drew a two-out walk and advanced on a base hit from Williford. Triton elected to intentionally walk Medlin, who had been red hot at the plate, loading the bases. Brewer, 0-for-2 at that point, hit a hard ground ball up the middle to bring Wimberly home to win the game and the championship.
“I knew I had to get on because there were two outs and we needed to get runners on base to score,” Wimberly said.
“I knew I needed to step up and fill Kolby’s spot,” Brewer said. “She had been hitting the ball all night and it was my turn to do something big.”
Both teams will receive the conference’s automatic bid to the NCHSAA 3-A state playoffs and are expected to start the playoffs at home.
The most recent projections at the time of writing have Triton as the No. 12 seed in the 3-A East, hosting No. 21 rival South Johnston in the first round. Triton won the lone regular season meeting 6-0 at South Johnston on March 6.
“It’s not going to change our seeding in the state playoffs,” Whitman said. “We’re going to come back and work hard next week. I’m as hurt as they are because we lost three times to them in a week. We’ve got prom (Friday) and I’m going to give the girls off tomorrow. So, I’m going to let them enjoy their weekend and then we’re going to come back and work hard Monday and Tuesday.”
Harnett Central is currently projected as the No. 10 seed, hosting No. 23 Southern Wayne in the first round.
“Keep on working defensively behind our pitchers and keep on having quality at-bats,” Taylor said of Central’s keys for the postseason. “Keep getting runners on and doing our job to move them over.”
Two additional conference tournament championships were decided on Thursday night as host Southern Lee topped Western Harnett 4-1 in baseball and Union Pines was a 3-1 winner over visiting Lee in girls soccer.
Andrew Kelly was 3-for-4 with an RBI for Western (12-14), the league’s No. 2 seed for the state playoffs, which start Wednesday. Josh Carter was 2-for-3 for the Eagles. Noah Kessler, Devonte Sanders, Caleb Scott and Bradley Wilson had hits for Western.