Sarah Walker heard some sound advice from the dugout.
Don’t drop your shoulders. Stay in. Watch the outside.
Walker used the counsel to battle through eight foul balls before rocketing a RBI single that gave the Wake Forest softball team a permanent lead. The Cougars on Wednesday defeated Wilmington Hoggard, 6-1, to advance to the fourth round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A playoffs.
Walker wasn’t on the Wake Forest team that went all the way to the finals in 2013, so her hit got the Cougars (20-6) one step closer to that possibility.
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“I knew my team needed me, and it’s just something you have to do when you play the game,” said Walker, who will be playing in the fourth round for the first time in her high school career. Wake Forest will travel to Greenville Conley Friday.
Hoggard (22-8) opened the third-round’s scoring when No. 2 batter Nia Green blasted a solo home run to left in the first inning. Wake Forest couldn’t find home plate until the third, when Rebecca Perry fired a RBI double through a left-center gap to score leadoff Cassidy Dahle. Walker’s hit, which withstood 14 Morgan Mathis pitches, gave the Cougars a 2-0 lead.
We have a lot of older girls showing everybody that it’s not that big a of a deal, there (are) seven whole innings.
Wake Forest coach Brittany Owens
Perry went 3-for-4 at the plate to lead the game.
The hosts tacked on four more runs in a five-hit fifth inning, including Jessica Barbour’s two-run homer. Barbour and Dahle added two hits apiece to the Cougars’ 11-hit night.
Hoggard leadoff Olivia Hawkins advanced to third in the top of the seventh with one out, but Wake Forest senior starter Chelsey Cunningham struck out two to end the Vikings’ season.
“She’s been phenomenal the last two games, and I see it sticking around,” Cougars coach Brittany Owens said of Cunningham. “She’s a real athlete.”
Cunningham pitched a complete game, collecting seven strikeouts and giving up five hits. She adjusted her change-up after the first inning, proving to be the difference for her on the rubber.
“My freshman year, we went all the way to states and that would just be great to do it again my senior year,” she said. “Each round we go, it furthers our season. We’re lucky we’re still playing.”
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan