What made Wednesday’s 2-1 loss to Greenville D.H. Conley in the third round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A softball playoffs stink even more than normal for West Johnston was how familiar it all felt.
The Wildcats fell victim to a bottom of the seventh offensive push from the Vikings who pushed across two runs after six innings of nothing to get the victory. Conley (25-2) also scored in the bottom of the seventh inning against the Wildcats in the second round of last year’s playoffs.
West led 1-0 for much of the night after Megan Mills’ two-out RBI single in the top of the first scored Kassidy Wood.
Mills held Conley, state champions last season and in 2013 and 2011 as well, without a run for six innings. The senior right-hander got key outs against the Vikings’ best batters with runners on base in the first, second, third and fifth innings.
But in the seventh, Conley took advantage of a lead off single from Morgan Shirley, a pitch that hit Gray Barrow while she had tried to bunt the ball and a bunt sinlge from Alexis Phillips to load the bases with nobody out.
Mills struck out the Viking lead off batter, then West second baseman Brooke Applequist made the play of the inning to get to a ground ball near first base, then throw home beating the runner going home for a force out — the second out of the inning — and preserving West’s 1-0 lead.
“When Brooke went home with the ball and got the out, I thought we were going to be alright,” said West Johnston coach Laura Jefferson. “That was a really tough play and we made it.”
Makenna Matthijs of Conley came to the plate with the bases still loaded and drilled a ball back up the middle. Mills got a glove on it, deflecting it toward third base. By the time she retrived it and threw to third, trying to get the force out, Phillips slid safely just ahead of the throw to Amber McLaren as Brenna Hardee scored, tying the game.
“You can’t blame it on the close calls,” Jefferson said. “The call on the bunt attempt where the ball hit her was a tough one. But we only scored one run and had three hits. You’ve got to do more than that to be win, especially against a team like Conley.”
Conley clean up hitter Lexi Phillips followed with a line drive single to right to score Hardee for a 2-1 victory.
The rally left West lamenting its few offensive chances against Conley left-hander Emily Kirby. Tatum Brummitt led off the Wildcat fourth inning with a single and Mills followed with a rocket shot up the middle, but Conley second baseman Grace Cochran made a diving catch of the ball, then threw to first base to complete a double play. West had just one base runner reach base the rest of the way.
West Johnston finishes its season with a 20-5 record. The Wildcats graduate a five-member senior class — Alayna Parrish, Kassidy Wood, Kaylea Eubanks, Mills and Applequist — which has posted a stellar playoff record.
“Any time you win 20 games in a season, you’ve done something really, really big,” Jefferson said. “If we had gotten through Conley, we’d be at home in the next round and I felt like we’d be in good shape to get to the state title game. This was a state title-type game.”
West has reached at least the second round of the playoffs in each of the class’ four years, including a run to the fourth round in 2014 and an eastern regional championship appearance in 2013.
“We’re losing some amazing seniors but we’ve got some amazing young players who will be back,” Jefferson said. “Before you know it, it’ll be time to do it again next year.”