Four Middle Creek softball players stood in front of coach Robbie Wray as the rest of the team hastily jogged to the dugout. Wray knew something was up.
The four players sprung into place, holding him still for a Gatorade bath – the team’s way of celebrating a 3-0 Tuesday night home win against Fuquay-Varina to win the program’s first conference title since 2008.
Wray fought back by holding the players who were holding him, making sure they too got some of the liquid and ice that was about to fly into his shoulders and back.
But Wray didn’t have to wrestle his players when it came to getting fired up for the showdown. It became winner-take-all for the Southwest Wake Athletic Conference championship when the Mustangs were upset on Monday 1-0 by Holly Springs, a team it had beaten 13-0 earlier in the year.
“We were pretty upset about it because it was senior night and we lost to a team we shouldn’t have lost to. We didn’t play our best,” said Middle Creek senior Lauren Panella. “Coming into this game, we put that one in the past and focused on this game. We really wanted it.”
Middle Creek (16-2, 12-2) scored three first-inning runs without a ball leaving the infield. The scoring plays were: an infield RBI single from Panella that scored Allie Burghardt, a wild pitch that scored Megan Walker from third and an error by the pitcher that scored Panella.
“We’ve got a lot of different weapons and a lot of different ways to score,” Wray said.
Middle Creek sophomore Devin Wallace, who struck out 16 in the teams’ first meeting of the year, struck out 10 batters and allowed two hits.
Fuquay’s first hit didn’t come until the fourth on a single by Kaitlan Smith. In the fifth, Bengals catcher Megan Tarpey singled.
Also finishing with a two-hitter was Fuquay pitcher Cassidy Keith. After three runs crossed the plate, she retired 14 straight batters.
“We had a shaky first inning. We had a case of the nerves. After Cassidy got through that, she gave up one hit from second (inning) to seventh,” Fuquay coach Deb Clarke said.
Fuquay-Varina (14-4, 11-3), which snapped an eight-game winning streak, ends in a tie with Apex for second. The two will play Thursday at Holly Springs for the right to host a playoff game.
“I like to peak at this time of year. It’s the best time to do it. It’s a great group of girls. At practice, they come early and leave late,” Clarke said.
Fourth-place Green Hope is the only other SWAC team with an automatic berth to next week’s playoffs.