Heading into its best-of-three North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3A East final, the South Johnston softball team was quite familiar with the caliber of opponent it was facing and knew it needed a big game to earn a victory.
Fortunately for the Trojans, they did just that in using two big innings to land the first punch with an 11-5 game one win in the eastern regional series over C.B. Aycock in Pikeville, N.C.
As fellow Eastern Carolina Conference foes, the Golden Falcons and Trojans split their 12 games the past four seasons before conference realignment disrupted, temporarily, the rivalry.
“We knew it was going to be a classic battle,” South Johnston coach Mickey Bridgers said. “We knew we had to compete at the plate so it was just a great effort by our players”
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The Trojans accumulated 12 hits on the night to help halt the Golden Falcons’ 14-game win streak.
South Johnston used a four-run fifth inning to take the 5-3 lead and then added six more runs in the top of the seventh to add a little breathing room that provided starting pitcher Lauren Higgins with a little breathing room against a potent Aycock (19-3) offense.
Higgins earned the complete game victory thanks, in part, to limiting the damage that the Golden Falcons’ powerful duo of Meredith Burroughs (currently the all-time homerun leader in state history) and sophomore Keeley Fulghum (entered the game with a homerun in four consecutive contests).
Higgins helped her own cause at the plate too with a solo homerun and two-run double that helped set the tone for the Trojans (23-3).
“It was just a great individual effort,” Bridgers said. “When you get into the playoffs, it takes great individual efforts to succeed and to win. This was, by far, her best game at the plate in the last several weeks.
Seven different Trojans drove in runs. Kayla Allen, Madison Byrd, Higgins and McKinley Johnson all recorded two hits.
Katie Gay had a two-run homerun and Allison Shingleton went 3-for-3 including a two-run double to lead the way for Aycock.
Bridgers knows how good a team his club is facing and expects another classic Wednesday at South Johnston at 7pm.
“They’re an outstanding team; they hit the ball,” Bridgers said. “We know we’ve got our work cut out tomorrow.”