Apex senior Ashley Garwatoski knew the stakes.
The left fielder found herself at the plate with two outs in the top of the seventh inning with the Cougars softball team down one run to Southwest Wake Athletic Conference foe Green Hope on Friday afternoon.
She worked the count to 3-0 before taking a strike.
Falcons’ reliever Sam McNeill’s next pitch was right where Garwatoski wanted it. She turned on it and drove it over the left-field fence to tie the game, which the Cougars’ won on a sacrifice fly in the eighth inning 3-2.
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“Two outs, seventh inning and I knew that if I didn’t get a hit it’s the end of the game,” she said. “I knew I had to do it for the team, and it felt really good.”
It was the fourth straight victory for Apex (7-1, 5-1), the N&O’s No. 10-ranked team, and fifth in a row over the No. 18 Falcons (3-3, 2-3).
The extra-inning defeat spoiled a solid effort by Green Hope starting pitcher Madison Clifford, who tossed five one-hit, shutout innings.
“It’s disappointing,” Clifford said. “We played very well and just let it get away.”
The Falcons threatened in the bottom of the seventh as Emily Wynne got a two-out double and Kayla Tanner was walked intentionally. But senior staff ace Olivia Oates (5-0) struck out the next hitter before inducing a pop-up back to the mound.
In the eighth, Shelby Poliachik reached on an infield single by a step, stole second and advanced to third on a groundout by C.J. Wright.
Samantha Pesot then lofted a sacrifice fly to right. The throw from Kasey Condon beat Poliachik, but the tag was late allowing the eventual winning run to score.
“Everything in that inning was close,” Poliachik said. “I was sweating it.”
Green Hope got a one-out walk, but a fielder’s choice grounder and another pop-up back to Oates ended it.
The Falcons took a 1-0 lead in a first inning that saw four batters reach base, but only courtesy runner Wynne scored on an RBI single by Katie Asbill.
They made it 2-0 in the bottom of the third as Tanner slammed a double to the left-center gap, went to third on a fly out and came home on Kamron Phillips’ RBI single. Tanner was 3 for 3 with a walk and Phillips 3 for 4 to pace a 10-hit Green Hope attack.
Apex cut the lead in half in the sixth as Pesot walked with two outs and came home on an RBI double by Oates. Oates’ hit was nearly out No. 3, but a diving attempt in the outfield saw the ball glance off Condon’s glove as she hit the turf.