In the latter innings of their Greater Neuse River Conference softball clash, Clayton and Garner were both looking for someone to step up, to take control of the game.
Enter Comets’ sophomore pitcher Hannah Ryan.
Ryan drove in the go-ahead runs in the top of the seventh inning and then struck out the side in the bottom of the frame to give Clayton its fifth conference win in five tries in a thrilling 6-4 affair.
“My pitcher…when she gets the fire going, she takes everyone else with her,” Clayton coach Britney Kudlawiec said. “To start out 5-0 in conference, as a first-year coach, I really can’t ask for much more from them right now.”
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In the top of the last inning, Garner pitcher Samantha Weidner retired the first two batters before a hit batter and an error put two Comets on the base paths.
Ryan, who drove in Clayton’s first run on the game in the first inning, helped to plate the final two as her shot to the gap in left-centerfield was enough to drive in both Mindy North and Erin Hollingsworth.
Twice the Comets had taken the lead in the game only to see the Trojans match their run total in the bottom of the frame.
Ryan made sure that didn’t happen a third time as she struck out the side in the bottom of the seventh, all on off-speed pitches.
Trying to put the emotional win into words for Ryan was difficult although she was quick to applaud the efforts of teammates who are off to a hot 8-2 start to the season.
“Our girls work so hard in practice; they are a great group of girls to have around and I love them to death,” Ryan said. “To come out here and play with the girls I love, I wouldn’t trade them for nothing.”
The Trojans looked poised to finally come out on the right end of a close game as Garner was resilient for much of the game.
Down a run after the top of the opening frame, three straight singles from Alisha Josey, Libby Bynum and Haleigh Joyner tied things up as Joyner’s base hit drove in Josey.
Then, after their guests put three more runs up on the board in the top of the sixth, the Trojans again answered right back.
A leadoff walk was followed by another string of three consecutive hits with Josey and Bynum driving in a run each and a Clayton error leading to a third Trojan run in the inning to knot the game at 4-4.
The loss dropped Garner to 0-5 on the year as the young team has had its troubles in getting over the hump in a bunch of close games.
A Trojan error was committed in each of the three innings in which Clayton put runs on the board and Garner stranded 11 runners on the night.
Veteran Garner coach Moe Barbour has an idea for what the Trojans need to be able to come out on the winning end in those contests.
“We’ve lost three one-run games and a two-run game,” Barbour said. “I don’t have a true leader on my ball team and until someone steps up to lead, we’re not going to win.”
Joining Bynum and Josey in the two-hit club was Sam Armstrong while freshman pitcher Samantha Weidner went the distance for the Trojans in a gritty performance.
“The pieces are there and I’ve been trying to move them around like a little chess game and we’ll find our way,” said Barbour. “I knew we were going to struggle some; I didn’t know we would struggle this much.”
Ryan also tossed a complete game to earn her fifth win of the season.
Bailey Perdue’s two-run single in the sixth highlighted a 2-4 night at the plate while Hollingsworth and Ryan also recorded a pair of hits each.
“I told the girls coming in that this game was going to come down to who wants it more and limiting mistakes,” said Kudlawiec. “I can’t say enough for how bad my girls wanted this and how hard that they have worked.”