Hannah Ryan pitched a complete game and the Clayton softball team rallied in the sixth inning to top East Wake 7-4 on Thursday night.
Ryan struck out six batters for the visiting Comets (9-2, 6-0 Greater Neuse River Conference) and held the host Warriors (3-2, 1-2) without a hit in all but one inning. Clayton trailed, however, until a four-run explosion in the top of sixth put them ahead for good.
“These girls have more fight in them than ... any team I’ve ever coached,” said Clayton coach Britney Kudlawiec, whose team remained ranked in first place in the conference with the win. “I can’t say enough about their spirit and their drive.”
East Wake, trailing 3-0 after the third inning and still searching for their first hit, scored all four runs in a fourth inning rally that briefly gave them the lead. An RBI single by Madison Swiger followed by a two-RBI double by Bailey Watkins highlighted the Warriors’ only offensive stretch of the night.
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Turning Point: After Lindsay Hodge hit a leadoff single then stole second base to start Clayton’s sixth inning, a deep RBI single by Erin Hollingsworth tied the game at 4-4, forced an East Wake pitching change and began a parade of hits by the Comets.
Three batters later, a two-RBI double by Bailey Perdue gave Clayton the advantage they would never relinquish.
Putting Up Numbers: In addition to her effort on the mound, Ryan also went 3-for-4 at the plate for the Comets. She was one of four on the visiting roster to register multiple hits, a list that also included Hodge (3-for-5, 2 stolen bases), Perdue (2-for-4) and Kortnie Blanchard (2-for-4, 2 RBIs).
For East Wake, starting pitcher Annabeth Watkins remained poised through a tough start to record eight strikeouts and allow 5 runs over 5.1 innings.
What Worked: East Wake coach Melissa Bell switched her team’s batting strategy against Ryan starting in the fourth inning, telling her players to bunt at every at-bat.
The decision to focus on getting contact on the ball rather than swinging for the outfield quickly interrupted Clayton’s defensive rhythm and sparked East Wake’s short-lived comeback.
Needs Improvement: Bell also felt that her pitchers made it too easy on their opponents.
“Coming into this game, we knew they were a hitting team,” said Bell, referencing Clayton’s 10.5 runs-per-game average this season. “We tried to keep it away from them, not putting it across the plate, and they still hit the ball.”
Watkins pitched her way out of several promising Clayton scoring opportunities in both the 2nd and 4th innings but ran out of steam by the 6th. She and Swiger, her replacement, combined to allow 14 hits.
Moving Forward: With the win, the Comets remained undefeated in the conference after playing games on three consecutive nights for the second consecutive week.
Clayton is on spring break next week – a schedule interruption that Kudlawiec hopes won’t hurt the team’s momentum given that Wake County schools have already had their break -- before facing on West Johnston on April 14.