After many years of coming up just short, Triton’s varsity softball team finally claimed a conference tournament championship by winning 5-1 at Harnett County rival Harnett Central in the championship game of the All American 3-A/4-A Conference tournament Thursday.
“I told the girls, ‘We have no pressure on us,’” said Triton coach Mark Whitman. “‘We’ve just got to play our game. We’ve got to be patient at the bat.’ We did that tonight. We played great defense. We got out of a couple of jams, kind of like they got out of a couple of jams. We got the timely hits when we needed them there at the end. I didn’t expect it to be 2-1 going into the seventh, but we scored when we had to score.”
The Hawks (16-9) were on a five-game losing streak going into the regular season finale at Harnett Central on April 27. A 5-3 win over the Trojans in that game, Central’s first conference loss of the season, started Triton on a four-game win streak, including Thursday’s championship win over the Trojans exactly one week after the streak began.
“We finally have put it together the last four games,” Whitman said. “We went on a little losing spree there and couldn’t click. One run here, one run there. An error here, an error there. I think they figured out they could win. It was just a matter of putting it all together and doing it.”
Junior Aubree Bass went the distance in the pitching circle for Triton, giving up one earned run on six hits and two walks, with one strikeout.
“Aubree has pitched lights out all year,” Whitman said. “The record doesn’t really show that she has, but she’s been in every game she’s pitched and we’re proud of her.”
Kacey Fulcher also pitched a complete game for the Trojans (18-5), yielding one earned run on seven hits and two walks, with five strikeouts.
Bass had two hits and two RBIs and junior T.K. McLean had two hits, including a double, one RBI and one run scored to lead the Hawks at the plate.
Berkley Campbell had two hits and one RBI. Abby Miller had one hit. Gracie Byrd had three runs scored. Cameron Pope scored once.
Junior Evan Blake had two hits and one RBI, senior Ashley Bliven had two hits and one run scored and junior Savannah Bain had two hits, including a double, for Central.
Triton led from wire-to-wire after Byrd led off the game by reaching third base on an error and scored when Campbell followed with a sacrifice fly to right field.
Byrd reached on another error in the top of the fifth inning, stole second and scored on a base hit from Bass.
Central got on the board in the bottom of the fifth when Bliven had a base hit, stole second and scored on a base hit from Blake.
A key defensive play swung the momentum fully in Triton’s favor in the bottom of the sixth. After Bain drew a lead-off walk, on the next at-bat, second baseman Stephanie Davis caught a hard line drive and quickly threw to first baseman Shelby McLamb to turn a double play.
In the top of the seventh, Byrd reached on a fielder’s choice, Campbell followed with a base hit and McLean hit a double to score Byrd. Bass followed with a hit that scored Pope, pinch running for Campbell, and McLean scored on an error on the same play to push Triton’s lead to 5-1.
Bliven and Blake each had hits in the bottom of the seventh, but a ground ball to Davis at second ended the game.
Both teams will have bids to the NCHSAA 3-A softball playoffs. Brackets are expected to be determined on Saturday.
“Now it starts over again,” Whitman said. “We’re 0-0. We’ll give the girls off tomorrow. They need a break. Three games this week. They’ve gone hard all week. We’re going to come back refocused on Monday and wherever we go on Tuesday, we’ll be ready to go there on Tuesday.”