Megan Mills had no idea she would be in such a key situation so early in her high school softball career.
But in her first mound appearance with the West Johnston varsity Tuesday night, the freshman definitely delivered. Mills went three hitless, shutout innings in relief, striking out four with two walks to pick up the decision as the Wildcats nipped Greater Neuse River 4A rival Clayton 1-0 in 10 innings.
The win gave West (5-2, 5-1) sole possession of second place in the conference while Clayton fell to 6-3 and 4-2.
The contest had almost too much drama for a regular-season game. West starter Christina Gower and Clayton’s Nicole Bond matched zeroes in the first seven innings. Bond was the eventual hard-luck loser in a complete game.
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Gower struck out eight, allowing one walk and three singles.
“I knew it was going to end up with a mistake on somebody’s part,” West coach Warren Singleton said. “Pitching was going to be good on both sides and defensively we both stood strong. It was obvious the way the game was going that one run was going to win it.
“Christina gave us seven good innings, and I didn’t want them to get too familiar with her. I thought the change would throw them off a little bit. (Mills) has been great from the start. I just made a decision to leave her on (junior varsity) and bring her up for the tough games. I thought I might need her tonight.”
Mills had pitched two innings in West’s easy victory in the JV preliminary contest before getting the call after the end of regulation.
“It was my first varsity game,” Mills said. “When I got on the mound, I was thinking ‘I hope I don’t screw up.’ My curveball and screwball were working well. I know a few of their players.”
The Wildcats, who finished with seven hits, scratched out the winning run with one out. Megan Gibbons doubled to left and then took third on Danielle Myers’ one-out single to left. Rachel Willis drew an intentional walk and Katelyn McLamb reached on a fielder’s-choice when Gibbons was thrown out at the plate. Bond’s 1-1 offering got past catcher Jenna Harris, and Myers scored in front of Harris’ throw to Bond at the plate.
“I was very proud of the girls,” Clayton coach Kelli Stephenson said. “We played a great game overall. Defense, team-wise, base-running, I think we played well. We saw how Nicole felt and let her keep going. It’s a natural movement.
“Pitching and defense were great on both teams, so it was going to come down to a mistake.”
Gibbons, the senior shortstop who has signed to play at Gardner-Webb next season, finished with a pair of doubles and a single to lead the Wildcats’ seven-hit attack. She was also gunned down at the plate in the eighth after Clayton had loaded the bases with nobody out.
“Nicole is my best friend and had never struck me out in high school,” Gibbons said. “After she struck me out (in the third) I was determined not to let that happen again. I said ‘I’m hitting the ball.’ This was pretty big. We had lost to Garner, and Clayton’s our other toughest opponent.”
Bond struck out 14 against three walks in the loss.
“It’s a 1-0 ball game after 10 innings, and that’s when defenses win games,” said the senior Bond, who will play at Northwestern next season. “It was a pitchers’ duel and when it comes down to a mistake – Jenna blocked it and it just didn’t go our way.
“This is a fun rivalry. We’d like to beat them every time, but we want them to do well because we know them so well.”