When a pair of traditional powers square off deep in the state softball playoffs, a one-run game is probably a fair result.
And that’s what happened when D.H. Conley traveled to Southern Alamance in the fourth round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A playoffs.
Hayley Fearrington’s two-run single keyed a sixth-inning rally in which the Patriots scored all their runs, giving the hosts a 4-3 comeback win over the Vikings in front of a very packed house Friday night.
The win advanced Southern (26-2), champion of the All-Metro conference, to the best-of-3 Eastern final against defending Eastern champion Cape Fear next week.
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Conley, which had lost to Cape Fear in that Eastern final last season, finished 23-4.
Both teams will play in class 3A next season, although the Vikings will continue in their 3A/4A conference. Southern is looking for its eighth state championship but its first since 2004.
Conley won a state 4A title in 2015 and 3A crowns in 2013 and 2011.
“We’ve been living on the edge the whole season,” Conley coach Wayne Deans said. “Obstacles and adversity happen, and we’ve answered tough moments by fighting back. On some of those tough nights we’ve been able to win, and tonight was one of those nights when we were unable to do it. We kept fighting, but just couldn’t pull it out.”
Madeline Curtis, who will play at N.C. State next season, had two of the winners’ six hits while Emily Byrd and Taylor Simmons doubled.
Cheyenne Cox, who is headed for Lees-McRae in the fall, was the winning pitcher in an eight-hit complete game.
“These girls are as resilient a bunch as I’ve ever coached,” Southern coach Jon Russell said. “They’re gutsy, they work extremely hard and they know what they have invested. And they weren’t going to quit. I tip my hat to D.H. Conley. That’s a great program over there and this was a huge win for us.”
Emily Kirby led the Vikings at the plate with a homer and a double for two RBI, Makenna Matthijs added three hits while Alexis Phillips chipped in a double.
Cox, who finished with seven strikeouts, fanned the first four Vikings before Conley rallied in the second. With one out, Lexi Phillips singled and stole second before Kirby’s RBI double to right.
Conley doubled the lead in the fourth when Kirby led off by ripping a 1-1 offering over the right-field wall.
“This season has meant the world,” said the senior Kirby, who had committed to Liberty before last season. “I’m going to miss all these girls. I wouldn’t change anything about playing here for four years. A lot of us have been playing together since we were seven or eight years old.”
Southern had just two hits before its sixth-inning rally, Simmons led off with a double before Allison Moore reached on an error, followed by RBI singles from Curtis and Abi Stuart. Fearrington finished the scoring with her two-run single and Kirby came on for sophomore Lexie Vincent, who had retired 12 of the next 14 batters despite being hit in her right pitching elbow by a second-inning pitch.
Conley’s first four runners reached in the seventh as Morgan Shirley walked, Matthijs singled to right and then Grace Cochran and Lexi Phillips drew two more walks to force Shirley home. But Cox retired the final three batters and the hosts celebrated.
“I was fortunate enough to get a few hits tonight,” said the senior Matthijs, who has been catching since she was seven and committed to UNC Greensboro as a sophomore. “It helps when everybody is loud in the dugout. Lexie was a little mad when she got hit, but she worked really hard and came back and pitched well.”
Six Conley seniors will play college ball next season as Cochran will head for Lincoln Memorial, outfielder Cara Davis to UNC Pembroke and both Shirley and third baseman Breanna Hardee to Pitt C.C.
“We definitely have a lot to build on,” Deans said. “These seniors will forget this loss, but they’ll remember their relationships with their (softball) family. And we don’t rebuild, we retool.”