A school guidance counselor by day, Melissa Bell has spent the early portion of a much-anticipated season offering nuggets of useful long-term wisdom to her East Wake softball squad.
“We have all but two starters back from last year’s playoff team, so I definitely have high expectations for this group,” said Bell, who is in her sixth campaign as the Warriors’ head coach. “When you have that type of talent back, you want to see what you can do with it.
“I’ve been using some of my counseling skills with these girls because we have a lot of potential. But the difference between potential and being one of the best teams that East Wake has ever had is being able to come together as a team.”
That hasn’t been an issue to date for the Warriors, who are on a six-game winning streak after defeating Clayton by an 8-1 total on Friday at Carver Park in the second contest of a back-to-back Greater Neuse River Conference series.
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East Wake (6-1 overall, 2-0 GNRC) had started the series Tuesday with a convincing victory at Clayton, and was never threatened in the rematch after scoring four runs in the bottom of the first against the young Comets (2-6, 0-2). The Warriors haven’t lost since an opening-day setback at Bunn, which reached the 2A best-of-three East final series in 2015.
After three straight walks loaded the bases in the bottom of the first, senior catcher Haley Glover ripped a two-run single that started the four-run uprising. Bailey Watkins followed with an RBI single, and another run would come across following a Comets’ error.
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Haley Glover, East Wake: The veteran backstop went 2-for-3 with an over-the-fence homer to go with four RBI. Bell called Glover’s longball the farthest-hit ball she has ever seen in a high school game.
“I got a pitch right down the middle,” Glover said. “Pitches that are down the middle can go far.”
AnnaBeth Watkins, East Wake: One of the Warriors’ co-aces, Watkins went the distance, allowing a single run in the top of the sixth frame. She scattered seven hits, none before the fourth inning, while walking three and striking out 13.
“(Watkins) did a really good job of hitting her spots,” Glover said. “She got some calls with her screwball, and she threw a back-door curve for the first time in a game and did pretty well with it.”
Hannah Ryan, Clayton: The Comets’ mound ace didn’t start after working Tuesday, but she came on in relief in the bottom of the fourth and allowed only two hits while fanning four. At the plate, Ryan picked up a pair of hits and drove in her club’s only run.
Under the new GNRC format, teams play league games against each other twice in the same week as part of a home-and-home series. In Bell’s estimation, that gives pitching-rich clubs an advantage because they can start different hurlers in each contest. The Warriors went with Madison Swiger on Tuesday before sending Watkins to the hill during the second game. That duo combined to allow just two runs.
“I didn’t really like (the format) at first,” Bell said. “But we have two dominant pitchers we can use, and they are dominant in different ways. They bring different styles to the game, so this is something we can use to our benefit.”
Experience is the main thing needed at Clayton, which doesn’t have a senior on its roster. However, the Comets have plenty of youthful talent as a foundation as they hope to eventually contend in the competitive GNRC.
“We have great team chemistry,” said Comets’ junior cleanup hitter Bailey Perdue. “We trust each other. We have a lot of new girls, so we are still getting to know each other.”
Said Clayton junior leadoff ace Kayla Huddleston: “Even though we have a young team, we have meshed together really well.”