South Central advanced to the fourth round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A softball playoffs Tuesday night with a 5-4 walk-off win over Holly Springs.
The Falcons (22-3) will travel towards Fayetteville to play undefeated Cape Fear on Friday with a trip to the East Final on the line.
The Golden Hawks tied it up in the top of the seventh with a pinch-hit single by senior Abby Anderson to score two and a Brittany Brown single two batters later, but South Central coach Cotton Nicholson had the top of the order up in the bottom half of the inning.
“I know how good we are and I know we can get on base.” he said.
Anna Mewborn beat out a throw for an infield single, then stole second. Lindsey McCallum moved the runner to third and Cameron Davis hit a liner into left to drive in the winning run.
“That’s just fundamental softball: get on base, steal, bunt, fly ball,” Nicholson said. “Against the good teams, you get it whenever you can.”
Nicholson said the team’s goal of winning the school’s first state softball title since 2008 – when the school was 3A – is coming into focus, but he added that the team has been working toward it since winter.
“We don’t want to just go deep,” he said. “We talked about it the first day of practice: We have a team to go deep and maybe win it. We’ve got pitching. We’ve got hitting. We’ve got defense. We’ve got slappers. We’ve got speed. We’ve got power. If we can just get it all together, we’ll be fine.”
Nicholson said in the third round against Cape Fear, just as in every other game this season, it will start with pitching.
“You always start with the circle,” he said, noting the performance of senior Abigayle Rowell, who pitched a complete game. “We’ve got to have a good game from her. Right now, our leadoff batters are getting on base and our three and four hitters are driving them in. We’ve got to keep doing it, keep putting the ball in play make the team make some mistakes and hopefully come out ahead.”
South Central took the lead in the bottom of the first and stayed ahead until Alex Frothingham tied it up with an infield single that scored Shelbie Summerlin for Holly Springs (18-5) in the top of the third.
The 1-1 tie held until the bottom of the fifth, when Madison Deanes singled to start a one-out rally. Mewborn, McCallum, Davis and Lauren Conway all singled as five Falcons in a row managed to reach base safely before the Hawks put away the side.
Down 4-1 in the top of the sixth, the Hawks went down in order after a leadoff Frothingham single to give the visitors one last shot in the seventh.
Emily Barefoot, Summerlin and Tara tobul hit singles to load the bases with no outs for Anderson and eventually Brown, who knotted the game at 4-4 going into the home half of the last inning.
“You got to hand it to them, they didn’t give up,” Nicholson said. “They came back in the top of the seventh and fought hard.”
Mewbown pushed pitcher Alyssa Brown to a full count before getting her leadoff single. After a steal and a fielder’s choice, Davis drove in the winning run from third on a line drive that went over the outstretched arms of two outfielders and rolled to the warning track.
Holly Springs coach Emily Pierce said she was proud of her team’s performance this season, leading up to the final out.
“It’s a one-run game, which you should expect in the playoffs,” she said. “Teams that aren’t good don’t make it to the third. We came in knowing that they were a good team. We were just hoping that our bats would be a little bit better.”
Pierce said her team’s six seniors have been a core part of winning the school’s first conference title in six years and making it past the first round of the playoffs.
“What they brought to the field and our squad was the love of the game. You can tweak the talent and you can coach the details and you can teach them to be good at the little things, but if the girls don’t love it, you can’t teach,” she said. “My team shocked me. I don’t think that anyone but us expected us to be a highly-ranked team in our conference, but they walked away first in our conference. They got to the third round, which hasn’t been done in years and they were able to turn around a program that was dying.”