A normally reliant combination of fielding and hitting abandoned Princeton Wednesday afternoon, sending the Bulldogs into 1-0 hole in their NCHSAA 1A East Regional championship softball series with Whiteville.
The Bulldogs endured a rough start to the third inning, and it cost them as three unearned runs crossed the plate, helping Whiteville secure a 4-3 victory.
The loss snapped a 13-game winning streak for the Bulldogs, who fell to 19-5 and face a must-win situation Friday evening at Whiteville to force a deciding third game in the best-of-three series for the right to advance to next week’s NCHSAA 1A championship series.
That inning saw the Wolfpack, champions of the Three Rivers Conference, who improved to 24-6, to grab a 3-0 lead that seemed insurmountable until the Bulldogs rallied to tie matters in the bottom of the fifth.
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After breezing through the first two innings, the Bulldogs hit a wall in the top of the third, allowing lead-off batter Grace Nance to reach first on a third-strike passed ball.
Following a single to right, things became worse for the Bulldogs when a throwing error on a grounder by Laura Thompson scored Nance and left Whiteville with two runners in scoring position and no one out.
Eden Brown cashed in on the error, driving a two-run double to right. Defense then returned to the Bulldogs on an unassisted double play by Logan Pace to snuff the rally.
Despite out-hitting the Wolfpack 8-5, the Bulldogs could not put together a quality rally until the bottom of the fifth, when they tied the game.
“We didn’t start playing ball until the fifth,” said Princeton coach Terry Braswell. “I don’t know what it was - nerves or whatever - all I know is we didn’t start playing until late in the ball game.’
Princeton came to life offensively in the bottom of the fifth, with Beth Braswell drawing a lead-off walk and moving to second when the Wolfpack misplayed Carson Braswell’s bunt, giving the Bulldogs runners on first and second.
Charley Cox then doubled to drive in Beth Braswell, but Whiteville centerfielder Sayeh Campbell made the play of the game, hauling in Kelsey Peedin’s fly ball, and throwing out Carson Braswell at the plate for a double play.
Campbell made life miserable for the Bulldogs, ranging all over the outfield for eight putouts, several robbing Princeton of hits, and an assist.
But the Bulldogs’ fifth inning wasn’t quite over. Taylor Carroll and Tori Paul belted consecutive RBI doubles to tie the game at 3-3, but Campbell hauled in Hailey Wood’s fly to center to end the inning.
Whiteville recovered from the Bulldogs’ surge, and plated the winning run in the top half of the sixth
The Wolfpack’s winning rally began on a single by Sara McClelland, who moved to third when the throw trying to force her at second on Linda Worley’s bunt was mishandled, giving Whiteville runners on the corners.
Campbell, the proverbial thorn in the side of the Bulldogs, then laced an RBI single to right, driving in McClelland with what would be the winning run. She paced Whiteville at the plate with a 2-for-3 night.
Paul, who started for the Bulldogs, registered eight strikeouts and surrendered three hits.
Wood, who absorbed the loss, took over in the sixth and struck out three while walking one and surrendering two hits.
Savanna Massengill led Princeton at the plate with a 2-for-3 evening, while Peedin was 2-for-4.