South Johnston’s softball team just keeps running into a roadblock at C.B. Aycock in the state playoffs.
Aycock eliminated the Trojans for the second consecutive season, relying on the pitching of junior left-hander Allie Phillips and a pair of early runs to defeat South Johnston 2-1 on Tuesday night in the third round of the Class 3A playoffs.
Phillips pitched a two-hitter, giving up a second-inning run when South Johnston had its two hits. The hard-throwing lefty settled down after that, retiring the final 15 Trojans batters.
“I think we could have been a little more aggressive early-on,” South Johnston coach Amanda Smith said. “We watched too many good strikes go by and swung at some balls that were high. We knew his (the umpire’s) strike zone was low from the beginning.
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“But I am so proud of this team. The word to describe this team is fighters. I have never been part of a group that doesn’t want to die. The energy was there all night. … It was just a matter of the pitching. We knew she was going to be competitive. … I just knew two runs weren’t going to beat us. But we never could scratch.”
Aycock took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning on a single by Keeley Fulghum and an RBI double by Madison Walton.
South Johnston opened the top of the second with a single by Madison Byrd. After a sacrifice, Lily Allen singled Byrd to third and she came home on a groundout by Sarah Pierce.
Aycock answered in the bottom of the inning. Allison Shingleton singled with one out and Cassandra Lassiter followed with a single to right that got past the South Johnston defender, allowing Shingleton to score from first.
After that, Phillips took over.
“She is really peaking at the right time,” Aycock coach Emily Burke said. “She was struggling a little bit early this year and she is finally putting it all together. She changed shoes halfway through the game and that worried me from a superstition standpoint.”
No problem. Phillips had been wearing new cleats for two weeks and had been winning. But when her feet began hurting, she went back to a more comfortable pair.
“The first two innings I struggled a little bit with the strike zone,” Phillips said. “But I wasn’t following through. I started pitching better and I knew my teammates were behind me.”
Particularly the outfield trio of left fielder Shingleton, center fielder Connor Vinson and right fielder Hannah Vinson.
The Falcons outfielders ran down everything their way. And Phillips pitched to her strength, putting spin on the ball to induce fly balls. Seven of the final 15 outs were made by outfielders.
“We hit balls that were probably deep (over the outfielders’ heads) or in the gap,” Smith said. “They are extremely fast in the outfield.”
Sophomore Mary Brown was the tough-luck loser for the Trojans. She gave up just five hits and one earned run.
“All postseason she has done a tremendous job,” Smith said. “She can’t hang her head for sure.”
No reason for the Trojans to hang their head either. In the second round of the playoffs, they upset top-seeded Cardinal Gibbons. Then they went down fighting against a familiar – and hard-to-beat – Aycock team.