Beddingfield did it again. That’s the only way to put it.
The Bruins took advantage of the only two opportunities they had to score against unbeaten North Johnston – a team that had beaten the Bruins twice during the regular-season – and claimed a 3-2 victory in the third round of the 2A softball playoffs Friday.
“That’s the story of our life with Beddingfield in the playoffs,” said North coach George Daniels. “They get very few opportunities, but they take advantage of them.”
The verdict ended a North season that looked destined to end with a state championship. The season had seen the Panthers rise to seventh in one national poll.
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The Panthers, however, knew the obstacle they faced against the Bruins, which beat North in the eastern regional championship series last season, en route to the state championship. They were a proven playoff winner plenty familiar with the Panthers.
Beddingfield pitcher Brooke James gave up eight hits to North, but he had success alternating high outside pitches with tight inside pitches to keep batters off balance.
“I threw it pretty much everywhere,” James said. “Inside, outside, up and down.”
Beddingfield pushed a run across in the first when Nickie Womble walked, moved around on a couple of wild pitches and scored on Jenna Pate’s seemingly harmless, but perfectly placed fly ball to right-center field.
It set the tone for the entire night – everything seemingly going right when the Bruins got a chance to score.
Beddingfield didn’t threaten to score again until the sixth, getting an infield single from Caroline Smith and then a bad bounce ball that allowed Pate to reach base and Smith to move to third with one out.
Brooke James followed with a sharp single to right, scoring Smith to push the lead to 2-0. Candace Wilkins added a ground ball out to the right side of the infield to get Pate home for a three-run advantage.
North’s first chance to score came in the third when Lauren Batten singled with one out and Olivia Narron bunted her way on base. Jamie Johnson followed with a sacrifice bunt to put runners on second and third with two outs. But James got the next batter to pop up, ending the threat.
“We had our chances, second and third one time and couldn’t get a run in,” Daniels said. “It seemed like every time we got in position to score, there were always two outs.”
The Panthers struggled to start innings like they want to all night. No leadoff batter reached in on an inning until the seventh.
“That was a big factor,” Daniels said. “It keeps us from playing the way we want to, takes the bunting away, keeps our speed off of the bases.
“I thought the playoff pressure, what we’ve put on ourselves got to us a little bit, but I thought we’d work ourselves out of it. Unfortunately, we didn’t.”
After Beddingfield ran the lead to 3-0 in the bottom of the sixth, North came to life in the seventh. Caroline Turner doubled to start the inning, then scored on a single by Olivia Stewart. Batten followed with her second single of the night, sending Stewart to third and bringing the potential go-ahead run to the plate with nobody out.
James got a pop up on a bunt for the first out, then a groundball out from Johnson that cut the lead to 3-2 but got the Bruins the crucial second out.
“I was a little drained and tired, but I knew that my teammates would push me through,” James said of the seventh.
James did the final pushing through herself, striking out the game’s final batter and ending the Panthers’ 23-game winning streak and their season.
The Panthers’ five-member class of 2013 finished with an amazing 94 wins in their four-year run in the North Johnston red and black, including a 75-3 mark the past three years and three undefeated regular seasons.
All five seniors – Ashleigh Mason, Meredith Johnson, Taylor Adams, Turner and Batten – will play in college.
“They’ve been a special bunch,” Daniels said of his senior class. “To have five girls still together after four years and nobody be envious or jealous of anybody else is rare. They’ve been such a team-oriented group. Even with freshmen starting, some position changes, they’ve done whatever we’ve asked as coaches.
“They’re a very tight group of young women, which makes seeing them go so much tougher.”