With Garner’s Lauren Marbrey and Clayton’s Nicole Bond locked in a pitcher’s duel Tuesday night, neither team was able to produce a big hit with a runner in scoring position.
That is, until Clayton’s Lindsey Hodge stepped to the plate in the bottom of the sixth inning.
With Jenna Harris on second base after a two-out double down the right-field line, Hodge lined a two-strike pitch to right center field for a run-scoring double that gave Clayton a 1-0 lead.
That was all Bond needed. She set the Trojans down in order in the top of the seventh to secure the Greater Neuse River 4A softball victory and hand Garner its first loss of the season.
“In the dugout, my teammates were talking me up,” Hodge said. “Nicole told me to crowd the plate and get up in the box because she was throwing curves, and that is what I did. It was in the strike zone, and I hit it.
“I was hoping she would score. I just wanted to get the win.”
Hodge’s hit was only the fourth of the game for the Comets against Marbrey, who shut out Clayton in a meeting earlier this season.
“I told our girls in the fifth or the sixth, ‘One run is going to win the ball game, whether it’s us or them,’ ” said Garner coach Moe Barbour, whose team dropped to 9-1 overall and 7-1 in the conference. “I’ve got to give credit to Nicole. She threw the ball well.
“We did absolutely nothing. We played good defense and got good pitching like we normally do. We wasted our opportunities. We had a runner on second base with no outs twice and didn’t score a run.
“You can’t win ball games like that.”
Bond weathered a storm in the fourth inning, when the Comets made an error and Bond walked two batters and threw a pair of wild pitches. But the senior who is headed to Northwestern to play softball struck out Alisha Josie with the bases loaded to end the inning.
From that point on, Bond allowed just one base runner – Garner second baseman Brookie Kamphuis, who led off the top of the sixth with an infield hit and went to second on a throwing error. Bond set down the next three in order.
“Sometimes you lose (command of strike zone), but the important thing is that you find it when it counts,” Bond said. “As long as you can work with your mistakes and make them better, that is always good.
“I told (my teammates) to win every inning and every at-bat. When you can get out of a tough inning like that and then you can produce (a run), that is all that you can ask for from your team.”
For Bond and the Comets, who lost to Garner 7-0 in their first meeting, it was an important victory. Clayton has three league losses but is likely destined for a playoff spot.
“This was a big confidence booster,” Clayton coach Kelli Stephenson said. “It was going to come down to one run. We both have solid pitching and solid defense. We made some solid contact, but nothing was falling until (the sixth).”
Bond had two hits, a pair of ground-ball singles up the middle in her first two at-bats. She was intentionally walked in her third plate appearance in the sixth. With first base open after Hodge’s run-scoring double, Marbrey walked Bond and then hit Erin Hollingsworth with a pitch to load the bases, but she got out of the inning with just one run allowed when she struck out Ashley Murphy.
Bond finished with a two-hitter, walking two and striking out seven. Marbrey gave up four hits, walked one and struck out seven.
Garner dropped into a first-place tie in the Greater Neuse with West Johnston, which also has one loss in the league. The Trojans defeated West Johnston in their first meeting of the season.
The Trojans had two more games in the week after the loss to the Comets, and Barbour said he expected Garner to come back strong.
“That was a reality check right there,” Barbour said. “We haven’t been held below six runs all year. … We’ve been swinging it. I had confidence that we would swing it tonight. But I’ve got to give them credit. Defensively, they played better this time around. You don’t get many chances against Nicole and tonight we just didn’t take advantage.”
Bond summed up Clayton’s victory succinctly.
“It’s always a good win when you beat Garner,” the Comets’ senior star said.