Fuquay-Varina softball coach Deb Clarke suggested it was the temperature. Maybe it was that Panther Creek starting pitcher Cassidy Somers was dinged up by a line drive on the sixth batter she faced. Or maybe the adjustment Aleyah Evans made to her swing prior to the game.
Whatever it was, there was just no quieting the Fuquay-Varina bats on Friday night.
Seven different Bengals combined for 10 hits – including three doubles and two homeruns – as Fuquay-Varina surged to a 12-2, five-inning victory over visiting Panther Creek in the second round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A playoffs.
“I think it was the temperature. The ball was just flying out of here tonight,” Clarke said with a grin.
Evans, Kaitlin Smith and Hayden Parker had two hits apiece while Smith drove in four runs and Evans and Parker each hit three-run homeruns. The Bengals scored in all four of their at-bats including a seven-run outburst in the bottom of the fourth when 10 batters came to the plate.
“It seemed like their bats just kept getting stronger,” Panther Creek coach Bryan Cromer said. “We kind of got down on ourselves when they started hitting.”
Once they started, they didn’t stop. Smith doubled home a run in the first. In the second, Evans, the number nine hitter in the order, jumped on the first pitch and drove it over the fence in centerfield for a three-run shot.
“She changed her swing a little bit and made an adjustment for today’s game and it definitely paid off in a big way,” Clarke said.
After a throwing miscue plated a run in the third, the Bengals went to work in the fourth. Megan Tarpey drew a bases loaded walk and Smith cranked a three-run double to centerfield. Two batters later, Parker slammed a three-run homer to left.
On the defensive side, pitcher Cassidy Keith did her part for Fuquay-Varina, striking out seven, walking one and allowing three hits over five innings. After walking the first batter of the game, Keith retired 10 straight until Madison Thompson touched her for a solo home run in the top half of the fourth.
“She keeps the batters off-balance and she was hitting her spots tonight,” Clarke said of the sophomore Keith. “We’ve been working on her nerves in the first inning as she hasn’t been in this situation before.”
“We kind of seemed to use up all our hits in the last game,” Cromer said, referring to the Catamounts’ first-ever playoff victory on Wednesday.
The game was a unique matchup in terms of experience. The Bengals are playing in the state tournament for the 17th consecutive year while Panther Creek made its first ever appearance in the state playoffs.
“It’s an amazing feat. This is the best record (9-10) that the softball program has ever had in the eight years that we’ve been open,” Cromer said. “I’m extremely proud of the girls.”
“We love this time of year,” Clarke said. “We always just look to play the next game. If we hit like this we can play with anybody.”
Fuquay-Varina (17-4) will face Saturday’s winner of West Johnston and Heritage in the third round.