It was one of those chilly, damp-to-the-bones afternoons with misty steel-gray sky.
The Athens Drive and Green Hope softball players dressed in layers with long sleeves. Coaches pulled on jackets by the end of the game, if not at the start.
Except for Green Hope sophomore pitcher Ali Then, that is. She eschewed the long-sleeved black shirts her teammates wore beneath their sleeveless maroon jerseys.
“I get too hot out there,” Then explained. “I had (the long sleeves) on before the game, but I took it off. I didn’t think it was cold.”
Then’s pitching on the mound was hot, too.
She was leading 3-0 and tossing a perfect game going through 3 2/3 innings and a no-hitter through 4 1/3 before Athens Drive came alive and she was forced grind it out. Green Hope survived with an 8-7 win in eight innings on the Falcons’ field.
“You can’t let yourself fall apart out there,” Then said. “You have to keep it together for the team.”
The matchup was an intriguing early-season test for two programs trying to break into the upper tier of the Tri-Nine Conference with Fuquay-Varina, Apex and Holly Springs.
Green Hope improved to 2-0 and 1-0 in the Tri-Nine, while Athens Drive dropped to 2-1 and 0-1.
“I think both of us have a shot to beat those teams this year,” Green Hope coach Michelle Then said. “(Athens Drive coach) Breanna (Harrill) has done a good job of building her program.
“This is my fifth year and it’s finally paying off. We only had one senior last year and only one senior year this year. We’ve played with a lot of freshmen, but now they’re sophomores and juniors, and we’re getting more competitive.”
Green Hope took a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning when third-baseman Lindsey Hilts singled home a run and shortstop Jessi Beech doubled home two runs.
That looked like it might be the game’s only scoring before both teams starting hitting and capitalizing on errors and walks. Then was the victim of five errors, and Athens Drive pitcher Hannah Reynolds was hurt by four errors.
Athens Drive, which scored its first run in the fourth inning without the benefit of a hit, mixed in some big hits with Green Hope mistakes in the fifth. The Jaguars scored five times to take a 6-4 lead.
The rally started with Kate Curtner breaking up Then’s no-hitter with a single that scored Tracie Minor, who had reached base on an error. Reynolds followed with a walk, center fielder Tanya Van Dyk tripled in two runs, third baseman Jenna Hancock doubled home one and catcher Olivia Barattta tripled home the fifth run of the inning.
For the game, Van Dyk was 2 for 4 with two RBIs and two runs scored.
“I’m proud of our girls,” Harrill said. “We were down 4-0 and came back. We battled and never gave up. The girls played their hearts out.”
Green Hope sent the game into extra innings with two runs in the bottom of the seventh and scored the game-winning run in the eighth.
Pinch-hitter Rebecca Seftner walked, advanced to second on a wild pitch and was sacrificed to third by Nicole Maltrotti.
That brought up Lexi Ross, who adjusted from trying to slap the ball on the first couple pitches when the Jaguars played in.
She stroked a fly ball that likely would have scored Seftner tagging up, but the ball was dropped to end any suspense with a play at the plate.
“A lot of things happened in that game,” Michelle Then said.
“Ali was pitching great and then things got a little rough and they got some nice hits.
“But I was proud of the way we came back and didn’t give up.”