Princeton put Pinetown Northside in a situation the Panthers haven’t been in much this season all evening Wednesday. The Bulldogs put runners on base in five of the seven innings played.
Ultimately, though, none of those runners could get home and when Northside scratched out a run without a hit in the fifth inning it was enough to emerge with a 1-0 win in the third round of the NCHSAA 1A softball playoffs.
“We’d get close to getting something going and just could not get that one hit we needed at the right time,” said Princeton coach Terry Braswell. “We knew scoring was going to be a battle for both teams today, because of the quality of pitchers here.”
The Panthers, 23-0 and set to meet Whiteville in the fourth round, made the most of Taonya Stanley’s one-out walk in the fifth inning. After the Panthers brought Quortasia Clark onto pinch run, Northside centerfielder Mariah Stanley laid down a bunt that landed about six feet away from home plate, then spun back toward the plate when it hit the ground, preventing Princeton’s fielders from getting a clean hand on it. When the ball was bobbled after the initial touch, Clark advanced to third base.
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With Tiffany Oliver at the plate, a pitch from Bulldogs’ standout Hailey Wood sailed high over the glove of Kelsey Peedin and Clark raced home for a 1-0 lead and moved Stanley to third base with only one out still.
Wood got out of the inning with a pop up and a strikeout (the fifth of her seven on the evening).
Northside only had three batters reach base against Wood, who issued a pair of walks, but didn’t give up a hit.
“Hailey did an amazing job on the mound,” Braswell said of his junior standout who pitched two perfect games this season as well for the Bulldogs.
Northside started Rachel Lang on the mound, but she gave way to Kelsey Lang in the fifth, before coming back on to record the final Princeton out of the night.
“We knew they had two decent pitchers and we could see both,” Braswell said. “We just didn’t get it done at the right time.”
Rachel Lang got the save and Kelsey Lang the win.
Beth Braswell and Charley Cox drew walks in the second and third innings for Princeton, but were stranded on base.
Wood singled with one out in the Princeton fourth, then moved to second on Beth Braswell’s slapper through the left side of the infield. After a strikeout, Peedin drew a walk to load the bases with two outs.
But Rachel Lang popped up the next batter to get out of the jam unscathed.
In the fifth, Princeton left fielder Casey Mitchell had a 10-pitch battle with Kelsey Lang before singling to left to start the inning, but the next three Princeton batters were retired in order, leaving Northside ahead 1-0.
Princeton’s last chance to score came after Northside’s only fielding error of the night — which came with two out in the seventh and allowed Megan Bryant to reach. Cox followed with a single to push the potential game-tying run into scoring position.
So Northside coach Riley Youmans elected to go back to Rachel Lang on the mound, who got the job done with a game-ending — and in Princeton’s case season-ending — strikeout.
The Bulldogs, champions of the Carolina 1A Conference yet again, finished the season with a 17-5 record.
The Bulldogs lose two seniors to graduation, co-captains Cox in centerfield and Logan Pace at second base.
“We’ll miss them, always hurts to lose great players,” Braswell said. “But we’ve got a lot coming back and we’ll get after it again next year.”