The postseason outlook remained uncertain for East Wake after Thursday’s regular season finale, but the Warriors made their final case for a softball playoff bid a sure one as they turned down Knightdale 12-1 in six innings.
Despite her team getting a big win, East Wake coach Melissa Bell was left reflecting on the final, three-game week in which she knew her team would need to win out to up its chances of playing in the state tournament.
“The only thing we didn’t do that we could have done was beat Harnett Central on Tuesday,” Bell said.
The Warriors had the tying runs in scoring position in the bottom of the seventh inning against Central, which claimed the Greater Neuse River 4A title this season, but couldn’t drive them home.
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East Wake finished the regular season 11-6 overall and in fourth place in the league with an 8-6 mark. The top-three teams from each conference get automatic playoff bids, and the rest of the spots are filled based on overall winning percentage. The brackets were set to be finalized Sunday.
“I feel like this team should be in the playoffs,” Bell said. “If we get into the playoffs, I’ll be surprised if they don’t play well.”
What Worked: Annabeth Watkins pestered the Knights (5-14, 3-11) on both offense and defense Thursday.
The junior went the distance in the circle, one-hitting Knightdale while striking out eight batters and walking four. She also led the Warriors in hitting, going 2-for-3 with two RBI, and scored three times.
East Wake sophomore Bailey Watkins also went 2-for-3 with a RBI and three runs scored. The team finished the game with nine hits.
Putting Up Numbers: The Warriors effectively closed the door with a six-run sixth inning that led to the game being called early.
Sophomores Megan Fullwood and Breanna Boggs opened the frame with back-to-back singles. Fullwood scored on a wild pitch for the 7-0 lead as Boggs advanced to third. After a double by junior Haley Glover, Annabeth Watkins tripled on an error in right field and scored Boggs and Glover’s courtesy runner Courtney Ray to go up 9-0.
East Wake’s final three runs came on a Bailey Watkins single that scored Makaylah Bledsoe (running for Annabeth Watkins), a passed ball that allowed Bailey Watkins to reach home plate, and a Katelyn Alford single to right that drove in sophomore Avery Gunther, who had previously singled.
Consistent Approach: The Warriors gradually chipped away at Knightdale sophomore Jena Massing, who pitched a complete game issuing three strikeouts and as many walks.
East Wake got two runs in the second inning, when a groundout by junior Sam Albino scored Annabeth Watkins and an error in the Knightdale infield gave Bailey Watkins the chance to run for home. The visitors made it a 3-0 game in the fourth as sophomore Tasia Bartley scored on an overthrow to first base.
Then, in the fifth, Annabeth Watkins singled to left to drive in sophomore Madison Swiger, Bledsoe (running for Watkins) scored on a sacrifice bunt by Gunther, and an Albino groundout plated Bailey Watkins.
A Senior Moment: Knightdale got its run in the sixth on a topped ball by Sarah Woodard that led to an infield single and scored Massing.
Woodard’s satisfaction with the play, which was her last with the Knightdale program, was visible. She joined Taylor Whitley in Senior Night honors on Thursday.
First-year Knightdale coach Cliff Davis is already looking optimistically at what’s in store for a team that will lose so few players to graduation.
“We’ve got a lot of kids coming back,” Davis said. “From the beginning to the end of this season, they’ve show our defense is getting stronger, we’ve just got to get our bats stronger. It’s going to be a little tougher offseason. I want to make sure the girls stay healthy, but I still want them focusing on their hitting.”
East Wake is in a similar position, standing to return all but one player, senior Jessie Sherron, next season.