The game had been concluded for nearly 20 minutes, but Middle Creek coach Robbie Wray and his team were still talking. He kneeled down and they circled around to hear his words of encouragement after an 11-1 five-inning loss in Game 2 of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A East series.
“It’s only a loss for tonight. We do get another day tomorrow,” Wray said.
The Mustangs will travel back to Fayetteville’s Cape Fear High for a deciding Game 3 on Friday at 7 p.m. and the winner of that game will go to the state championship series.
Unlike Middle Creek’s 11-7 Game 1 victory, there were no lightning delays on Thursday night. But also unlike Game 1, Middle Creek’s bats never woke up.
The Mustangs (21-3) had just three hits on the evening, scoring their lone run in the bottom of the fifth on a bases-loaded walk to Kelsey Carr.
“Just as I was pleased with our discipline yesterday and the day before – the long game we played – tonight, we may have swung too early at some pitches and put ourselves in the hole instead of putting (the pitcher) in the hole,” Wray said.
Cape Fear (25-1), meanwhile, cut down its errors from five to two.
The Colts kept swinging the bats well, racking up nine hits. Meghan Wilkinson and Kaylee Carter each hit their second home runs of the series.
“Yesterday’s win may have given us more confidence than we needed against a team of this caliber,” Wray said.
Middle Creek started pitcher Devin Wallace, a sophomore who went six innings in Game 1. She traded places with junior first baseman Kiley Majette after 2 and 1/3 innings.
Wallace returned to the circle to pitch the fifth.
A crucial play, Wray said, came in the first inning. A low-lining infield blooper was nearly snagged by a diving Allie Burghardt, but it was just outside the shortstop’s glove.
Cape Fear’s Mary Williams was safe on the infield single, driving in the Colts’ first run and putting two runners on with two outs. The Colts scored three more in the inning.
“She made a great effort,” Wray said of Burghardt. “If she catches that ball diving, they don’t score in the first. We get momentum. But otherwise, now they get it. Then they get the big hit, they score some and get momentum on their side and it snowballed from there.”
Cape Fear also tacked on three runs in both the third and fourth and then had one in the top of the fifth.
Wray has been proud of his team’s fight all season – as well as its undefeated record on the road.
He pointed out how his team lost 1-0 at home to Holly Springs on Senior Night but came back the next evening to win the conference outright. In these playoffs, he’s seen them rally from down three in the bottom of the seventh to force extra innings and win. He’s also seen them withstand three lightning delays over two days that threatened to break up Game 1 momentum each time.
He hopes there is a little more fight, and one more road win, left in them.
“I’m expecting a whole different mentality and attitude when we get on the bus, (that) is what I’m hoping for,” Wray said. “They don’t quit. And I don’t expect them to tomorrow.”