Mission accomplished, now the waiting begins.
East Wake’s softball team did what it needed to do Thursday night, turning back arch-rival Knightdale, 5-2 in the regular season finale for both teams.
With the win, the Warriors, who improved to 10-7-1 overall and 9-5 in the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference, took a share of third place alongside Clayton in the final standings.
Of course, the Warriors were hoping for better, and could have found themselves in a four-way tie for second, had West Johnston (10-4 in GNRC) not defeated Harnett Central (8-6) on Thursday.
“We actually had second place to ourselves Monday,” said Warriors coach Melissa Bell. “We lost back-to-back games Monday and Tuesday night.
“All of a sudden, we were needing to win tonight in order to make the playoffs.”
The Warriors wasted little time in focusing on their task, utilizing the small-ball techniques that has carried East Wake most of the season.
That small ball style was displayed early on, as the Warriors claimed a 1-0 advantage in the first inning and stretched that to 3-0 in the second.
Megan Fullwood set up the 1-0 lead by reaching on a lead-off single, stealing second base and moving to third on a passed ball. Following a two-out walk to winning pitcher Annabeth Watkins, Jasmine McAbee hit a short chopper to third, which the Knights’ Quin George was unable to make a play on, allowing Fullwood to score.
East Wake stretched the advantage in the second frame on more small ball and some help by the Knights, who committed a pair of clutch errors that led to runs.
Madison Bell drew a lead-off walk, moved to second on a sacrifice and stole third. Fullwood then walked, putting runners on the corners, and Breanna Boggs singled in Bell for a 2-0 lead. A bad throw enabled Fullwood to take third on the play, and she scored moments later on a throwing error as Boggs stole second.
“We knew the field would be hard and the ball would bounce a little bit,” said Knights coach Kenny Watkins. “It took us a while to get used to that, and (East Wake) used it to their advantage.”
Knightdale (4-15, 2-11) tried some of its own small ball, getting a runner to third in each of the first two innings, but stranding them.
“If you look back at our last few games, you would see that has been our M.O.,” Watkins said, “We got them there but we couldn’t get them in. Tonight, we were two hits away from tying the game in the seventh.”
Josie Sargent walked to open the game and moved to third on consecutive sacrifice bunts, but a groundout left her at third.
Losing pitcher Jena Massing singled to start the second and moved to third on a pair of wild pitches, only to watch Watkins settle down and strikeout three consecutive batters.
Watkins’ effort in closing the second inning was the start of four consecutive strikeouts, which extended into five of six batters faced and eventually six of eight.
She ended the night with eight strikeouts while hitting one batter and walking one. Watkins scattered seven hits, and paced the Warriors at the plate with a 2-for-4 effort.
“Annabeth pitched a great game for us,” Bell said. “And I feel our defense was on tonight.”
Knightdale managed single markers in the fourth and sixth innings, cutting their deficit to 3-1 in the fourth on a single by Mackenzie Johnson, who stole second and took third on a throwing error. She scored on a sacrifice by Massing, who beat the throw to first for a hit.
Massing, who led all batters with a 3-for-3 night, singled in Sarah Woodard in the sixth for the Knights’ final score. Woodard opened the inning with a single and took second on a single by Peyton Pollard.
But that threat came to a halt when Watkins snagged a soft liner by Cassie Tyson and doubled out Massing to end the inning.
East Wake got some insurance in the fifth inning on a one-out triple by Aubrey McLeod that drove in Watkins, who had walked.
McLeod scored on a grounder by Lauren Lynch for a 5-1 Warriors lead.