Under conventional circumstances, scoring just four combined runs during a two-game series wouldn’t be a recipe for success in the competitive Greater Neuse River Conference softball standings.
But West Johnston is hardly a normal team when senior ace Megan Mills is on the mound, as evidenced by the Wildcats’ league sweep this week over East Wake.
Mills capped off the sweep with a three-hitter Friday, and West Johnston delivered its lone run in unearned fashion in the top of the seventh as part of a 1-0 victory over the Warriors at Carver Park.
“We had to dig deep to pull it together, but we did it,’’ said Mills, who has signed with East Carolina University. “It was a tough game – we pretty much knew coming in it would be that way.’’
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West Johnston (11-2, 6-0 GNRC) had topped East Wake 3-0 at home on Tuesday by, but the rematch promised to be much tighter as Warriors’ standout AnnaBeth Watkins jousted with Mills the entire way until the Wildcats pulled out a run in the top of the seventh in unearned, two-out fashion.
“It was hard way for us to lose,’’ said East Wake coach Melissa Bell, whose club fell to 6-5 and 2-4. “I feel bad for my pitcher, and I feel bad for my team.’’
With the victory, West Johnston remained undefeated in the league and tied atop the standings in the loss column with Garner. Those squads will meet for a twinbill on April 26 and 29 that is destined to have GNRC championship implications.
Neither team dented the scoreboard until the top of the seventh, when West Johnston’s Kaylea Eubanks stood on second base with two outs. A grounder to the right side by Emily Fowler was bobbled, and Wildcats’ coach Laura Jefferson didn’t hesitate to send Eubanks home when Fowler beat out a throw at first base.
“Coach was yelling loud, and she told me to go on home,’’ Eubanks said. “So I just listened to my coach and ran as fast as I could.’’
Said Mills: “That was pretty amazing for (Eubanks) to be able to score all the way from second on that play.’’
Mills then stranded the potential tying run at second base in the bottom of the stanza to wrap up her second straight shutout of the series.
Three to know
Megan Mills, West Johnston: Mills continued her dominant campaign by fanning nine while taking a no-hitter into the bottom of the fourth. During West Johnston’s six conference triumphs, Mills has registered four shutouts while allowing only six total runs.
“In my opinion, Megan is the best pitcher in the state,’’ Jefferson said. “She is very tough.”
Said Bell: “(Mills) is definitely the top pitcher we will see this year.”
Mills has been a hill fixture for West Johnston since the midpoint of her freshman campaign. As a 10th-grader, she verbally committed to ECU and finalized that commitment by signing with the Pirates in November.
AnnaBeth Watkins, East Wake: Watkins was also sharp for the Warriors, scattering four hits while striking out nine. She was on the verge of working through a jam in the top of the seventh before the unearned run foiled East Wake’s hopes.
“AnnaBeth really rose to the occasion,’’ Bell sdaid. “She was very excited about this game, and she did her job. She did exactly what we wanted her to do.”
Tatum Brummitt, West Johnston: Brummitt led off the decisive top of the seventh with a bloop single. She was eventually forced, but her hit had started the rally. A first baseman, Brummitt also threw out an East Wake runner attempting to score in the bottom of the fifth – the only runner the Warriors pushed the third base and beyond the entire contest.
Out of bounds
Between softball and baseball, it has been quite a wild week for West Johnston and East Wake.
On the baseball diamond, East Wake salvaged a split on Thursday by a 1-0 margin at home. The winning run in the pitcher’s dual was scored in the seventh inning – just like in the softball contest, which ended with an identical score, albeit in favor of the Wildcats.
West Johnston’s conference quest will continue next week with a series against defending league champion Harnett Central, while East Wake will hope to make a move in the playoff race as part of a series against Rolesville.