A strong pitching performance from senior Kennedy Byrd and a three-run home run from junior Meagan Worley made the difference as No. 2 South Johnston beat visiting rival No. 18 Triton 3-1 in the second round of the NCHSAA 3-A state softball playoffs Thursday.
“It’s a great experience,” Worley said. “We’ve been looking forward to a moment like this since the beginning of the season. And we know we should be here. It feels pretty remarkable. We had a goal at the beginning of the season and we’re achieving it.”
“Any time the two of us play, it’s going to come down to who gets that big hit,” said South Johnston softball coach Ashley Ennis. “Megan got her opportunity and she got all of it. That was the difference in the game. Both pitchers pitched well. Kennedy did an outstanding job. In the second inning, they produced a run and we finally responded in the third inning when Meagan hit that home run. Typical Triton-South Johnston game. Always close. Always comes down to one or two plays going your way. They’ve got a great team. They did a good job getting here and we survived and advanced.”
Triton softball coach Mark Whitman said Worley’s home run was the key difference.
“That’s what it was,” Whitman said. “I think other than the home run, we were evenly matched. We didn’t get a hit when we needed to get a hit sometimes. We let Kennedy get in a groove the last few innings. That’s a big thing. But, I’m proud of the girls. They knew we were in it tonight. They were going to have to play to beat us tonight. And Ashley knew we were going to be a better team than the time we played them and they beat us 5-0 (at Triton March 9).”
Byrd pitched the complete game win for the Trojans (21-1), giving up one earned run on three hits and two walks, with 12 strikeouts.
Sophomore Aubree Bass also went the distance for the Hawks (16-7), yielding three earned runs on six hits, two walks and one hit batter, with one strikeout.
Worley had two hits, including a home run, three RBIs and one run scored to lead South at the plate.
Hollyn Champagne had two hits, including a double. Allison Barbour had one hit and one run scored. Kealey Wade had one hit. Allison Stewart scored once.
Junior Ava Blackman had one hit and one RBI, senior Kimah Warren had a triple and one run scored and junior Gracie Byrd had one hit for Triton.
Whitman also praised the defensive play of senior Tristan Ennis, who helped keep Triton in the game with several key plays in left field.
“Tristan was lights out tonight,” Whitman said. “Nobody better than her. I’d put her up against anybody in the state in the outfield. She’s just a good, hard-nose ball player and she gives you everything she’s got. She came to play tonight.”
Triton scored when Warren led off the top of the second inning with a triple and came home on a base hit from Blackman.
Stewart drew a walk to lead off the bottom of the third inning and Barbour followed with a bunt single. After a sacrifice bunt from Price advanced the runner, Worley cleared the bases with a three-run home run over the center field fence.
“It was pretty cool,” Worley said. “I really felt like it changed the momentum. We got down one in the second inning. We knew we could come back, though.”
Whitman said he has high hopes for Triton next season.
“Hate to lose, but it’s not a game we’ll hold our head on,” Whitman said. “It’s a game we can learn from. We’re young. We’re going to have a good nucleus coming back. I hate it for the seniors. But, I’m proud of the girls. We’ll miss the seniors. We’ll just regroup. We’re not going to rebuild, we’re going to reload. Come back hard next season. Hopefully we’ll have a few newcomers come up and we can handle it from there. It’s been a good season.”
South Johnston will host No. 7 Harnett Central (21-5) in the third round on Tuesday. Central won 8-2 at home against No. 10 Currituck County (11-8) in the second round Thursday.
“We’ve just got to keep practicing the little things,” coach Ennis said. “In these games, the little things are going to matter. Things like these baserunning mistakes. We’ve got to clean that up if we want to keep advancing, because some of that is going to be the difference in the game. We’ve got some work to do. We’ve got room to get better.”