If the non-conference softball rivalry between neighbors Garner and Cleveland is going to be as good as its start, fans have plenty of solid battles to anticipate. The Rams won 10-5 on Tuesday night on the Trojans’ field, three days after being shut out 7-0 in Clayton.
And each team started the same pitcher.
Senior Heather McLean led a 13-hit attack with a homer and a double for three RBIs for Cleveland, helping sophomore Taylor Drayton to a six-hit complete game victory as the Rams improved to 2-1.
Garner fell to 3-1 with senior Lauren Marbrey, who had shut out the Rams in their first meeting, going 5 1/3 innings before giving way to freshman Libby Bynum.
Cleveland, in its fourth year as a school so with its first senior class that entered the school as freshmen, is a member of the new Two Rivers 3A conference while Garner has long been a power in the Greater Neuse River 4A.
“We hit tonight,” said first-year Cleveland coach Samantha Coats. “Last week we didn’t have any opportunities to practice because it was so cold. On Saturday they hit and we didn’t. Yesterday at practice all we did was hit.
“I think the girls got used to (Marbrey). They knew where the ball was going and could see it. This is a great win and should give our girls a lot of confidence going into conference play. You can’t win a game without hitting and I think they did a great job. ”
Garner’s veteran coach Moe Barbour said the Trojans are getting exactly what they need from playing Cleveland.
“(Cleveland) swung the bat a whole lot better tonight,” Barbour said. “They’ve got a good ball team. Every team in Johnston County is good. If you want to get better in tennis and volleyball and soccer and golf, go play some teams in Raleigh. If you want to get better in softball, go play the teams in Johnston County.
“That’s what we’re doing this year. I’d rather lose to a team like this 10-5 than go play somebody and win 24-0 and not get better. My girls swung the bat well tonight, but (Drayton) is a heck of a pitcher. They got a couple of hits when we drew the infield in, but they also hit some gappers. And we’re young. I’ve got two girls in the same position they were on the team last year, but I feel like we’re going to be just fine.”
Garner took a 3-0 lead in the first on a double from Alisha Josie and a two-run single from Taylor Bissett, but Cleveland scored the next nine runs.
The visitors got five runs in the fourth inning. With the bases loaded Elizabeth McIver hit a two-run single, followed by a two-run double from McLean and an RBI single from Brittany Bucklin.
“Garner is a very talented 4A team,” McLean said. “We came out and did our thing and beat the best, so it feels good.”
Alliyah Sands added a triple and a double for Cleveland while Bucklin chipped in two hits for three RBI. Drayton added a pair of singles and scored two runs.
“I kind of knew where to pitch them this time and where their weaknesses were,” Drayton said. “This time we knew how we needed to hit and how good our defense needed to be. And my curve ball and rise ball were working pretty well.”
Garner’s senior three-sport athlete Kelsey Bryan, who will play softball for UNC Wilmington next season, had a pair of hits with a sacrifice and scored a run.
“There wasn’t much difference from the other game,” Bryan said. “Their pitcher just came out more comfortable and they came out swinging. We weren’t swinging it that well. I’ve played travel ball with (Drayton) and I know what she’s got, so I wasn’t surprised.”