Timely hitting and stellar pitching are two great ways to extend a softball season into late May.
West Johnston got both of those things Tuesday night in knocking off Fuquay-Varina 6-1 in the third round of the state playoffs. The Wildcats advance to the quarterfinals where they will meet up at Middle Creek on Friday.
The Wildcats (16-6) collected just six hits but used them to score all six runs with two outs and sophomore pitcher Megan Mills kept the Bengal hitters at bay by allowing just four hits while striking out 13.
“She did an outstanding job,” West Johnston coach Warren Singleton said of Mills. “We didn’t need a ton of offense but our bats did come alive in a few key at-bats and there were a few errors.”
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West Johnston did all of its damage with two runs in the top of the first and four more in the fourth. With two outs in the first, Rachel Willis drove a double into the gap and Katelyn McLamb knocked her in with a single. McLamb later scored on a misplayed groundball.
In the Wildcat fourth, freshman Nadia Blevins came to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs and hit a shallow fly ball to rightfield. The ball squeezed underneath Fuquay’s diving Erica Kiessling and rolled to the fence, plating all three runners as Blevins raced all the way to third. The next batter, Kristin Power, singled home Blevins.
“That’s the kind of play we want her to go for,” Fuquay-Varina manager Deb Clarke said of the three-run triple that was nearly a dazzling inning-ending catch. “My assistant coach talked about it being a game of inches. If she makes that play she’s a hero.”
Meanwhile, the hard-throwing Mills hardly gave an inch.
The righty didn’t surrender a hit until Kelsey Ward led off the fourth with a double and no Bengal reached third base until the fifth, with West Johnston already up 6-0. It was then that Ashlyn Long drove in Brianna Smith with an infield single to breakup the shutout. Fuquay-Varina (17-5) hit just three balls out of the infield off Mills, who walked just one batter and recorded at least two strikeouts in five out of seven frames.
In three playoff games, Mills has allowed just nine hits and two earned runs while racking up 40 strikeouts. As a team, West Johnston has outscored its opponents 20-4 in the postseason.
“We tried to be a little aggressive early and hit early in the count. As we progressed we got some touches and got some hits but it just wasn’t enough,” Clarke said.
The Wildcats made it as far as the quarterfinals a year ago and there is some unfinished business at hand.
“We felt we could’ve gone at least one more round last year but it was a good run,” Singleton said. “Maybe we’ll finish it this year.”