Rivals Hillside and Southern Durham softball teams played one for the ages Thursday night, combining for 50 runs, in a Spartans 30-20 victory that took over three-and-a-half hours.
The win gives Southern its best record (3-1) in years, while the Hornets are still seeking their first victory (0-4) of the season. The Spartans also defeated Hillside on March 3, 13-11, at Hillside.
Southern coach Randy Grissom said he knew the program had turned a corner after the team’s win over Durham School of the Arts in its season opener. It was the Spartans first softball victory in four years.
“Over the last few years, it’s been kind of rough,” said Grissom, whose only loss is to Voyager Academy. “It’s kind of given the girls a boost of confidence. My freshman class has come in and performed very well.”
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Southern’s roster consists of two seniors, three juniors, three sophomores and six freshmen.
The game was a seesaw affair through the top of the fourth inning, with both teams retaking the lead in each of the innings.
With Hillside leading 11-9 at the top of the fourth, Southern exploded for 14 runs in the bottom of the inning for an insurmountable 23-11 lead.
Junior J-Naya Ephraim, who was making her debut on the team, led the way with a four-run, inside-the-park home run.
Ephraim hadn’t played softball in seven years, but caught the bug again after watching the Spartans against Voyager Wednesday night.
“I told coach I wanted to play and he said, ‘Come on.’ I was nervous ‘cause everybody was watching me, but she (Hillside pitcher Neah Stevens) brought it down the middle, and I just hit it,” said Ephraim, who also runs track, and plays volleyball and basketball. “Coach told me to just run, and I just took off and was happy to bring all my teammates in.”
But in a night of many stars, no one stood brighter than Hillside’s Hadiyah Omar. The infielder went 5-for-5, with a home run, a triple, two doubles and 10 RBIs. About the only thing she did wrong was try to extend a triple into an inside-the-park home run, where she was called out at the plate.
“She gives a lot of great energy. She gives her full effort every time, whether it’s defense or offense,” Hillside coach Diane Johnson said. “She gives 110 percent and she listens.”
Omar’s biggest worry was whether she would get to hit at all. She thought the Southern pitchers would walk her at every bat.
“Yeah, I was happy because I don’t want to be walked,” she said. “I want to hit my teammates home, and I felt like I needed to tonight to keep my team in the game.”
Despite the winless record, Johnson said she is seeing improvement in every game. The addition of several junior varsity players has altered the chemistry of the team, she said, but the talent is there.
“We’ve got to learn how to play together as a team. We’re doing a lot of switching around trying to find the right chemistry,” she said. “I’m hoping we’re going to have a better middle and end of the season.”