This figures to be yet another solid campaign for both the baseball and softball programs at North Johnston and Princeton, a campaign that the familiar rivals kicked off in earnest Friday night at North Johnston.
On the softball diamond, despite it being the Bulldogs’ regular season opener and just the second contest thus far for the Panthers, the two teams, coming off deep playoff runs from a season ago, seemed to already be in at least mid-season form.
Princeton received a gem of a pitching performance from Hailey Wood and Brianna Myers’ RBI double in the top of the seventh inning gave the Bulldogs a 2-1 victory.
On a night when the bats weren’t quite on par with the pitching, the North Johnston baseball team used three consecutive singles in the opening inning to take the early lead, one it would ultimately hold on to for a 5-2 win over the Bulldogs.
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Dylan Radford allowed just two unearned runs in four innings of work and Steven Worley mopped up the last three innings, also striking out six.
Bulldogs start season off on right note
Princeton (1-0) stranded five base runners through the first six innings so when its lead runner was nabbed at third base by a heads-up play from the Panther’s Olivia Stewart, it looked as though the Bulldogs may have missed one more chance to plate the winning run.
However, one wild pitch later that advanced Megan Bryant to second base, Brianna Myers came to the plate and the sophomore dribbled a shot to the outfield that just got underneath Taylor Narron’s diving attempt to stop it, allowing Bryant to score.
“There was a lot of pressure because there were two outs and it was an outside pitch,” said Myers. “I’m not really good at (hitting) outside pitches so I was pretty shocked that I hit it and scored the run.”
North Johnston (1-1) threatened in the bottom of the seventh inning after Olivia Narron advanced to third base with just one out after a sacrifice bunt from Lexi Godwin. Narron was eventually joined by Stewart and Emma Turner on the base paths with two outs, but Hailey Wood came through with her ninth strikeout of the night to turn back the Panthers.
“We talked about it before the game that if Hailey got in a groove early, we knew that she does well,” North Johnston coach Chris Batten said. “We didn’t do a good job at laying off of her rise ball, so we made it tough on ourselves.”
Wood struck out nine batters and allowed six hits in her complete game gem. Stewart was the only one to inflict damage with her fifth inning RBI single that scored Godwin to tie the game at 1-1.
Bryant gave the Bulldogs (1-0) the lead in the top of the third inning with an RBI double that brought home Kelsey Peedin after her double led off the frame for Princeton.
Wood and Beth Braswell each collected a pair of hits to lead the Bulldogs.
“We were up and ready,” said Princeton coach Terry Braswell. “We felt a little rusty but we played well. I was well pleased with this being our first game and they’re a good team — it makes you feel real good.”
Three-run first inning enough for Panthers
The North Johnston baseball pitching staff figures to be a strength for the Panthers this year and two of the staff’s standouts—Dylan Radford and Steven Worley—combined for a two-hitter Friday night.
Singles from the Bulldogs’ Alex Hickman and Tyler Ricks coupled with a pair of unearned runs in the third inning were all Princeton could manage from the plate on a frigid night in Kenly.
“It’s early; it’s cold,” North Johnston coach Brian Ford said. “Anybody whose been around the game long enough knows that good pitching is going to beat good hitting because the hitting is still trying to catch up to the pitchers.”
Catch up is what Princeton (1-1) played from the opening inning onward as the Panthers plated three runs in the bottom of that first frame.
Dallas Krob, Garrett Littleton and Blake McLean all singled for North Johnston while Worley’s sacrifice fly that scored Littleton was sandwiched between a pair of run-inducing Princeton errors that put the Bulldogs in a hole.
Princeton committed five errors for the game, two of which led to North Johnston’s last two insurance runs, one in the fourth inning and one in the sixth.
“We’ve got to make the routine plays,” said Princeton coach Bruce Proctor. “Most of the time, the team that don’t beat themselves is going to win. They did a better job of that than we did.”
Matt Daughtry and Nick Phillips accounted for the Bulldogs’ two runs, as the pair scored as the Panthers were unsuccessful in going for the potential inning-ending 6-4-3 double play in the third.
Holden Hales recorded the other North Johnston (2-0) hit and Logan Hayes drove in the game’s final run on a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the sixth.