No matter the outcome in its final regular season contest against rival Rosewood, the Princeton softball team would have laid claim to at least part of the Carolina 1A Conference title for a seventh consecutive season.
But that was not enough for the Bulldogs Friday night. Princeton punctuated its impressive regular-season campaign with a 7-1 win over the second place Rosewood Eagles (8-2 in conference) to win the title outright.
A pair of gutsy pitching performances from Tori Paul and Hailey Wood – who each managed to get out of a bases-loaded jam – and a big five-run seventh inning propelled the Bulldogs to the title.
“It was big,” freshman Wood said of winning the title outright. “The whole way here, we talked about getting pumped up and we did. We came out and showed everybody who we were and got the job done.”
The Bulldogs twice took a slim lead in the game’s earlier stages.
Wood led off the second with a double, advanced to third on a Savanna Massengill sacrifice bunt, and later scored when Kasey Johnson legged out a groundball that caromed off of Rosewood pitcher Amanda Beckert. An RBI single from Logan Pace gave Princeton a 2-1 lead in the top of the fourth.
With the game still very much in the balance, Wood came on relief for Paul, who battled through four innings and allowed just one run on two hits.
Rosewood threatened to tie the game in the sixth when a Kaitlyn Pipkin single, a walk, and a hit batter loaded the bases with one out. Wood responded by getting Alicia Burns to pop up to shortstop before striking out Callie Thornton.
The Bulldogs finally exploded for five huge insurance runs in the seventh, with Tori Paul’s two-run scoring single being the important centerpiece.
“It seemed like we were having problems adjusting to the pitching, and we finally brought it around in the end,” Princeton coach Terry Braswell said.
“They stepped up and did what they had to do.”
In all, the Eagles stranded 12 runners on the basepaths. Similar to the sixth inning, Rosewood appeared to be on the verge of a big inning in the second, but a pair of great defensive plays from Princeton shortstop Taylor Carroll stopped it.
The freshman infielder got the second out of the inning when she threw out the Eagles’ Anna Ingram at home plate, where fellow freshman Kelsey Peedin applied the tag. Then after the third walk of the frame loaded the bases, Paul got Beckert to ground out to Carroll, who threw out Pipkin at third.
The win kept alive a pair of streaks for the Bulldogs. It was the sixth consecutive win for Princeton over their rivals.
But more importantly, the victory marked the 14th consecutive victory on the season for the Bulldogs (16-1, 10-0); their last loss came March 11.
With a balanced team including experienced players in key positions and a lot of young talent, Princeton enters the playoffs hoping to keep that streak going.
But for a night, the focus was on the accomplishment of going unbeaten in the conference while outscoring conference foes by a combined 112-7 total.
“It was a big win,” Braswell said.
“I’m glad the girls got the chance to see what it feels like going undefeated in conference.”