East Wake pitcher Madison Swiger made one mistake. And Fuquay-Varina’s Brianna Smith made her pay.
Smith crushed a 2-0 pitch into the trees over the left-centerfield fence in the bottom of the fourth to power the Bengals past the Warriors 3-2 in the opening round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A softball playoffs Tuesday night.
“Our coach always told us, with a 2-0 count, look for that pitch,” said Smith, Fuquay’s freshman second baseman. “It was there, and I went for it. It felt good, and in my mind, I knew it was over. I saw it go out, and I was like, ‘Yeah, that was good.’ ”
Smith’s blast, combined with solid pitching from Cassidy Keith and Kaitlin Smith, moved Fuquay (16-4) into the second round to face Panther Creek, which had upset top-seeded Wake Forest 4-3 on Wednesday.
A pre-game chat with senior first baseman Kelsey Ward helped Smith understand how important the playoffs are.
“I’m not used it yet. I don’t know what it feels like to play in the playoffs,” Smith said. “But Kelsey told me it really meant a lot to her, because after this it’s win or go home. It felt good to be able to help keep us going.”
Swiger was dominant for East Wake (10-8-1) the rest of the game, striking out five and walking none.
If not for one pitch, Swiger would have been the star of the game.
“I don’t want to put that on Madison, I don’t want to put it on my pitching coach, but it was one pitch,” Warriors coach Melissa Bell said. “My team played a fantastic game. We limited a team that’s been getting 12, 13, 14 hits a game, and without that one hit, we beat them, maybe.
“I’m extremely proud of my girls. (Fuquay) has a great team, but our girls were in it all the way around.’”
East Wake had its chances in the first and second against a wobbly Keith. The Warriors got their first run on a single by Swiger, but Keith walked the bases loaded with two outs. Keith got out of the inning by striking out Aubrey McLeod.
Breanna Boggs reached in the second inning on an infield single with runners on second and third, but as Bailey Watkins ran to third base, Sam Albino hesitated to head home. When she did, she was cut down at the plate by Ward.
“If I had it to do over, with one out, I would have brought her back,” Bell said. “And then the bases are loaded with a big stick (in No. 3 hitter Haley Glover) up. That hurt us. Usually, this team is very good at base-running. We did have a couple mental things (tonight).”
After getting an unearned run in the fifth, Swiger was thrown out at third trying to stretch an error into an extra base.
Sophomore Keith was making her first playoff start, and she struggled in the opening innings with three walks and a wild pitch before settling down to give up two runs, one earned, while striking out five in five innings.
“That was her first time being in a playoff situation,” Fuquay coach Deb Clarke said. “Same thing with our conference game with Middle Creek – we’re going to work on her nerves a little bit and get her settled down. She’s definitely a better pitcher than she showed the first couple innings.”
Kaitlin Smith closed the door, retiring six of the seven batters she faced. She also had two of the six Fuquay hits, including a triple in the second.