The tough road through the Greater Neuse River 4A Conference season didn’t set East Wake up with a favorable path in the N.C. High School Athletic Association softball playoffs, to say the least.
It appeared for a time that the wild-card Warriors would get a rematch with rival Garner in the first round. The GNRC champ and East No. 3 seed would have been testing enough for the No. 31 Warriors, who were swept by the Trojans in the regular season despite one close game in their series.
But the team East Wake ended up drawing was, by the books, even less a walk in the park. The No. 2-seeded Conley Vikings needed no introduction but the defending 4A state champs got one anyway in a pre-game procession before dismantling the Warriors, 10-0, on Tuesday.
The season didn’t play out as anticipated for what was a dream team of sorts for East Wake (10-12), which will lose seniors Annabeth Watkins, Haley Glover, Sam Albino and Marcella Abate to graduation. Glover and Watkins have been offensive and defensive leaders on the Warriors varsity squad since they were freshmen.
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“This has been my team of potential,” said East Wake coach Melissa Bell. “They knew who (the Vikings) were before they got here. The game is just as much mental as it is physical, and I feel like we were not quite where we needed to be mentally.”
At the same time, Bell didn’t foresee a 10-run loss in six innings. And through five and two-thirds innings, no one really saw it coming.
Conley (23-2) had managed just one run up to that point, on a Grace Cochran single that drove in Cara Davis in the third inning. But with two outs in the bottom of the fifth, Cochran’s repeat RBI scoring Davis sparked the Vikings’ first charge of the game.
After a walk to Makenna Matthijs, Lexi Phillips tripled to right to plate Cochran and Matthijs, and an errant play at third base allowed Phillips to come home to put Conley up 5-0.
“They scored four runs with two outs and that was the difference in the game,” Bell said. “It’s hard to recover when a team like Conley – a hitting team – gets four runs.”
The Vikings loaded the bases in the sixth on a walk, a hit batter and a single by Davis. With one out, Cochran walked to score Morgan Shirley and Matthijs walked to score Alexis Phillips.
Lexi Phillips then punched in Davis on a single to second base, Emily Kirby singled to left to score Cochran, and a Jenna Keel slap to center drove in Matthijs to end the game.
The Vikes finished with 12 hits, three each by Davis and Keel. Cochran (2-for-3) and Lexi Phillips (2-for-4) each tallied three RBI.
Kirby, Conley’s ace, struck out 12 while allowing two hits – singles by Warriors Tasia Bartley in the first inning and Gracen Sessoms in the sixth. Watkins went the distance for East Wake, striking out two.
The Vikings advanced to host No. 15 Hoke County, a 10-0 winner over South View in the opening round.