Triton’s softball team overcame six errors in the field, holding off rival South Johnston 4-3 in the opening round of the NCHSAA 3-A state playoffs Tuesday.
“That’s the worst defensive game we’ve had all year long,” said Triton coach Mark Whitman. “I take some of the blame for that. I’m yelling names and they’re listening to me a lot of times. We got timely hits and scored enough runs. We persevered. We did what we needed to do. We executed to get runners in scoring position and got bunts down. I thought Hayden (Smith) and Haley (Hicks) laid down three pretty bunts to get runners in scoring position.”
South Johnston coach Amanda Smith cited execution with runners on base as a factor.
“We didn’t execute late in the game,” coach Smith said. “We didn’t get some things done early in the game. We tried to run a squeeze, missed a sign and got picked off at third. That’s another run in scoring position. But we’ve been working to work and compete and we competed tonight. I’m not going to hang my head. You’re talking about one of the toughest match-ups in the first round that probably anybody could have been given. It’s a big rivalry and I think both sides played very well. Leanna (Whaley) kept us off balance by mixing it up and they executed when they needed to.”
Senior Leanna Whaley pitched the complete game win for the Hawks (18-6), giving up one earned run on three hits and four walks, with four strikeouts.
Starter Carmen Keene was the pitcher of record for the Trojans (12-9), yielding one earned run on five hits, with one strikeout, across four innings. Savannah Lockamy pitched two innings, allowing no runs on one hit and one walk.
Brittany Ireland had two hits, including a home run, three RBIs and one run scored and Kaila Cooney had two hits, one RBI and one run scored to lead Triton offensively.
“Brittany hit the big home run and Kaila, she’s going to hit it hard every time she comes up,” Whitman said.
Ireland has seven home runs on the season, one shy of tying the Hawks’ single-season record set by Ashley Daniel last year.
Alexis Howard had one hit and two runs scored and Gracyn Slaughter had one hit.
Lockamy had a double and one run scored, Keene had one hit and one run scored, Courtney Garris had one hit and Kyndal Woodard scored once for South.
South got on the board first in the top of the first inning when Woodard reached on an error, advanced on a base hit from Keene and scored on another error.
Triton answered in the bottom half of the inning when Howard reached on an error, Cooney doubled and Ireland hit a hard shot over the center field fence to score herself, Howard and Cooney.
Lockamy doubled in the second inning, took third when Garris reached on a bunt single and scored on a wild pitch.
Howard led off the bottom of the third with a base hit, advanced on a Slaughter single and a Haley Hicks sacrifice and scored on a base hit from Cooney.
South cut the lead to one in the top of the seventh when Keene reached on an error and scored when Kandis Adams reached on another error. But a strikeout and a pop-up in foul territory to first baseman Allure Smith ended the game.
The loss brings the high school careers of four South Johnston seniors to a close: Kelly Dorman, Courtney Garris, Mackenzie Honeycutt and Koler Ellis.
“This is the first group that I was the head coach with for four years,” coach Smith said. “I came in with them as a head coach and to watch them grow, not only as players, but as leaders, as young ladies, it’s been a pleasure. I’m going to miss them. I told them, ‘Wins and losses don’t define you as people.’ If there’s one thing I’ve watched, it’s this group of four girls give it everything they’ve got.”
A strong returning core from this year’s varsity team and several solid additions from the junior varsity team have South Johnston primed to have another successful season next year.
“I told them, ‘Back to work tomorrow. No days off,’” coach Smith said. “I think we’re hungry. I think you learn from these and being a fairly young team, we’re going to learn from them. Everybody got better throughout the year. That’s all you can ask in a given season. We’ve got a great core and I’m looking forward to what happens in the future for this program.”
Triton will meet another Johnston County foe in the second round, traveling to Cleveland (15-3) on Friday at 7 p.m. Cleveland took the lone regular season meeting with the Hawks, winning a 4-1 defensive battle at Triton on April 12.
“We can win if we play our game,” Whitman said. “We’ve just got to come prepared to play. We’ll get two good practices in tomorrow and Thursday.”