East Wake and West Johnston found themselves locked in a war of attrition on Tuesday night.
With the game tied up at 2-all in the sixth inning, the Warriors took initiative at the plate and scored pair of runs to grab the late lead, which ultimately sealed a 4-2 victory.
The win pulled East Wake within two games of West Johnston, which fell to third place in the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference standings, with one week left in the regular season. It kept alive the Warriors’ hopes of advancing to the postseason, a privilege extended only to the top-three finishing teams out of each conference plus wildcards.
“It was a do-or-die situation, we needed those runs,” said East Wake shortstop Breanna Boggs. “We did everything we could and we did an amazing job at it.”
The Warriors (9-5, 7-5 GNRC) struggled with hits throughout the majority of the matchup. This was largely attributed to the tough on-target fastballs delivered by Wildcats pitcher Megan Mills.
“It’s always tough to go through your lineup and not get the hits,” said East Wake coach Melissa Bell. “We tried something different with the bunts and it worked, so we continued. If you get on, then sometimes you get in the other team’s head. So much of the sport is a mind game.”
With one out and runners on first and second, East Wake outfielder Avery Gunther nudged a well-placed bunt just in front of the plate. An overthrow to first base allowed Bailey Watkins to score for the 3-2 lead.
Bell and her Warriors prolonged their short-range strategy, as their very next batter Tasia Bartley laid out a sacrifice bunt to bring home Sam Albino to add insurance before the final inning. The Wildcats (11-3, 8-3) failed to answer, and though they put up a valiant defensive effort throughout the contest, their batting order could not find its groove.
“I thought we played hard, we just couldn’t get our bats warmed up,” said West Johnston coach Laura Jefferson. “If you don’t score but two runs, then you’re not going to win many ball games.”
The low-scoring matchup featured a battle of defensive execution from both sides.
Mills put on a stellar performance for the game’s entirety by dishing 10 strikeouts. Though she also allowed 10 hits, Mills consistently showed composure by keeping several innings scoreless when burdened by runners on base.
East Wake matched the Wildcats’ defensive prowess by repeatedly accomplishing a series of athletic plays in the infield, which created an impressive tug of war between the two teams.
West Johnston got all its offense in the third inning. With a runner on first, Wildcats first baseman Tatum Brummitt cranked a two-run homer over center field to give her team a 2-0 advantage.
The Warriors got on the scoreboard with a sacrifice grounder by Madison Swiger that scored Boggs in the fourth, and evened the playing field with an RBI single by Haley Glover to left field in the very next inning that scored Makaylah Bledsoe to shift the game’s momentum.
“They came together and played some small ball,” Bell said. “We got on base and that’s what you’ve got to do to win.”