South Johnston held off a late surge to edge visiting Harnett Central 4-3 in a nonconference varsity softball game Thursday.
“It’s about to be spring break and it’s hard to bring that focus,” said South coach Amanda Smith. “But I thought for six innings, we came focused and ready. Defensively, I thought we played hands down the first five innings. I thought in the seventh inning, we were up and had a lot of energy.
“It’s not a bad thing, but it can get you out of the focus point. I think we got super amped up when we scored another run and defensively, you’re going to have mishaps. But I told them, ‘It’s not about what you do right now. It’s how you’re able to react and change it’ and I think we made the plays when we had to. This is a fun group of girls and they’re going after it every single day. Every single one of them.”
Central coach Lauren Taylor noted the improvement in her team since the 8-1 loss to South to open the season on Feb. 28.
“We’re getting better at making adjustments,” Taylor said. “We’re getting more comfortable out there. We just took a little bit too long. I think our defense is getting better. They’re out there working hard and they want to win.”
Despite suffering from illness all week, junior Carmen Keene pitched the entire game to take the win for the homestanding Trojans (6-3), giving up one earned run on eight hits and two walks, with two strikeouts.
“Carmen threw a great game coming off of sickness,” Smith said. “She’s been sick all week. She’s still sick, but playing hard.”
Junior Ansley Lee also went the distance for the visiting Trojans (6-4), yielding four earned runs on seven hits and one walk.
Junior Kandis Adams had two hits and one RBI and sophomore Katie Mitchell had two hits and two runs scored to lead South offensively.
Keene and Kyndal Woodard each had one hit and one run scored. Logan Blackmon had one hit. Koler Ellis had two RBIs. Mackenzie Honeycutt had one RBI.
Central was led by senior Tanner Williford, with three hits and one run scored.
Lyndsey Brewer had two hits. Anna Ausley had one hit and one RBI. Fallon Wimberly had one hit and one run scored. Kolby Medlin had one hit. Lee had one RBI. Brittany Mills scored once.
Harnett Central left 11 runners stranded on base, including seven in scoring position.
“Their pitcher did a good job moving the ball in and out,” Taylor said. “Our hitters struggled for a little bit making solid contact until the end.”
Mitchell led off the bottom of the second inning with a bunt single, advanced on a wild pitch and a ground ball from Kelly Dorman and beat the throw home when Ellis reached on a fielder’s choice to put South on the board.
South led off the bottom of the third with three straight base hits. Woodard singled, Keene singled and Adams singled to score Woodard. Keene scored on a sacrifice fly from Honeycutt.
Williford and Medlin singled to start the top of the sixth inning. A Lee sacrifice advanced Williford and Mills, running for Medlin. Williford scored on an Ausley single and Mills scored on a throwing error when Ausley stole second.
South responded with a run in the bottom of the sixth. Mitchell singled, advanced two bases on a Dorman sacrifice and once again beat the throw home when Ellis reached on a fielder’s choice.
In the top of the seventh, Alexis Carroll reached on an error, Brewer reached on a fielder’s choice and Wimberly and Williford singled to load the bases with one out. A force play at home when Medlin reached on a fielder’s choice got the second out of the inning before Wimberly scored when Lee reached on an error to cut the lead to one. But a ground ball to Blackmon, at third, ended Central’s rally.
Harnett Central will host a spring break tournament Tuesday and Wednesday, playing C.B. Aycock at 11 a.m. and Princeton at 3 p.m. Monday and Aycock a second time at 1 p.m. Wednesday.
“We need to, starting from inning one, have quality at-bats, and make the adjustments in the first innings instead of waiting for the last couple,” Taylor said. “We need to play solidly, pitch solidly and make plays behind the pitcher on defense.”
South Johnston returns to action on April 10 when it hosts Greater Neuse 3-A Conference and county rival West Johnston.
“We definitely have to put the pedal down and just go,” Smith said. “I think after spring break seems to, for the last few years, be our turning point where we really take it up a notch. I’m just hoping for the same thing. I think the girls are ready for a break, just like all of us, and take a step back.
“Sometimes you’ve got to go back before you can go forward. I think we’re at that point where we can relax a bit, they know to come back ready to work on Monday the next week.”