The Garner softball team continued its dominance in the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference as it dismantled visiting Knightdale 15-1 in five innings on Thursday.
The win marked the second straight over the Knights for the Trojans (17-2, 10-0 GNRC), who had opened the home-and-home series with a 16-1 win at Knightdale two days earlier.
The Knights (6-8, 2-7) created some stress early on for Garner pitcher Samantha Weidner in Thursday’s rematch after Cassie Tyson had a leadoff single and Quin George walked. Following a force out at third and a single, Julia Massing hit a sacrifice fly to right for a quick 1-0 lead.
“We told (Weidner) not to worry about it,” said Garner third baseman Haleigh Joyner. “We came to hit today.”
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Joyner led the high-powered offense with four hits, including a first-inning home run that was one of three runs scored in the frame for the Trojans.
“We came together, got some hits and strung them together,” Joyner said. “Our offense was strong, and we brought our hits together.”
Garner quickly tied the game in the bottom of the first without getting a hit. Leadoff hitter Kira Jackson reached on an error, then stole second and advanced to third on a passed ball. Alisha Josey brought her home with a sacrifice fly. Joyner followed up with her first hit, a home run.
“It’s definitely exciting,” Joyner of the big night for herself and for her team. “I was in a slump in the beginning (of the season), and I think it’s finally come alive. It’s exciting that we’re all hitting together.”
Knightdale’s offense struggled to muster up anything offensively after the first inning.
The Knights were sent down in order in the second. Tyson, who pitched until being relieved late in the game by Jena Massing, reached on an error in the third inning but the next three batters failed to advance her. They went down in order again in the fourth before Mariah Tyson managed a base on balls in the fifth inning, but she too was stranded at first.
“(Weidner) hadn’t thrown in a little over a week. Everything in the first inning was up in the zone,” said Garner coach Moe Barbour. “They squared a few balls up on us, but she settled down. She threw well the remainder of the game.”
Garner’s offense exploded for 11 hits. In the second inning, the Trojans sent 13 players to the plate and scored nine runs in the process. Following back-to-back doubles by Kristina D’Arco and Sydney Jones, Josey hit a two-run home run to left to give Garner a 6-1 lead to begin the rout.
They Said It
“I don’t know of a better hitter around here,” coach Barbour said of Josey. “I really don’t. There’s three things I wouldn’t trade – my wife, my kids, and A.J. She’s a special player. She’s our only senior and she’s going to be hard to replace.”
By the Numbers
2: The number of hits by the Knights. Tyson and LeChonda Council each had a single.
4: The number of strikeouts by Garner’s Weidner.
4: The number of players who reached base for Knightdale in the game. One was a walk and one was on an error.
Knightdale has plenty of work left to do as it closes the regular season with a series against top rival East Wake and then another with second-place West Johnston. Garner closes with two games against West followed by a final series against third-place Rolesville.
First-year Knights coach Misty Bingham, who previously coach in Tennessee and Florida, wants her team to finish strong and take something away from the final games, win or lose.
“We have only two seniors,” Bingham said. “I’m confident in our ability to improve and get better. We’ve had some bumps throughout the year. It’s not the best season you could hope for, but a start is a start and every day you can improve day-by-day, learn from your losses and go from there.”
Bingham said this season is helping both her and her younger players get a feel for what it takes to compete in the perennially stout Greater Neuse. Seeing it in person, she said, has been more telling than just hearing it from veteran players.
“That’s really giving me some ground to stand on next year,” Bingham said. “New to the area, I wasn’t sure what I was going to see. It’s just getting a feel for it as you go.”
How the Knights fare in the final two weeks will hinge on their ability to produce on offense. The defense can stand with some of the best in the league, the coach said.
“If we can put runs on the board and compete with the best of the bats in the conference, we can look to secure a win in those final four games,” Bingham said. “The goal is always to win, but to have fun, too, and to learn something about these other teams.”