Whiteville first baseman Sage McLelland will be playing for East Carolina next spring, but her graduation didn’t come soon enough for Princeton in the fourth round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 1A softball playoffs Friday night.
McLelland hit three home runs and drove in eight as the Wolfpack downed the Tigers, 15-2, in five innings.
Princeton, the defending state champions, finishes its season at 18-6 while Whiteville (21-5) advances to face No. 1 seed Louisburg in the 1A East Regional final. That best-of-three series starts next week.
“They’re a good hitting ball club,” Princeton coach Terry Braswell said. “We just didn’t hit with them. We’ve been struggling with the bats all year, and our defense suffered a little bit today. We missed some balls we should have had. We just didn’t play ball.”
That wasn’t an issue for the Wolfpack, who grabbed a 2-0 lead in the top of the first on McLelland’s first long ball of the afternoon. Three batters later, Raeganne Sholar deposited another ball over the right field fence, and before the Bulldogs swung a bat, it was 4-0.
“It kind of got in the girls’ heads, I think,” Braswell said of the first-inning. “We didn’t ever really recover.”
McLelland added a three-run blast to right in the second inning, an RBI grounder in the third and another two-run homer to center in the fourth to power a Whiteville offense that pounded out 17 hits and five home runs.
“She’s a very humble young lady,” Whiteville coach Olivia Scott said. “She wants her teammates to do the same things that she’s doing. And she pushes them to be just like her. She wants them to work hard and she works hard. … A lot of people in our conference are ready to see her leave, but I sure am not.”
Whiteville built a 15-0 lead behind McLelland and Kourtney Grainger (4-for-4, three doubles, two RBI) before Princeton scored single runs in the fourth and fifth innings.
Karlyn Woodard chased home a run with a single in the fourth and Hailey Woodall plated a run with a double in the home half of the fifth.
Ivy Hayes earned the win for the Wolfpack, going the distance while fanning four.
“We started four freshman, and had only one senior (pitcher Beth Braswell),” Braswell said of his team’s season. “I feel like we had a great year. We just didn’t finish strong enough.”