There’s little mystery left between the North Duplin and Princeton softball teams as the Carolina 1A Conference foes are pitted against one another yet again, this time in the Eastern 1A Regional Championship Series.
On Tuesday night at Princeton (21-1) in the first game of the best-of-three series, more of the same was good for the top-seeded Bulldogs as Princeton blanked the No. 7 Rebels (20-4) for the third consecutive time this season in a 1-0 victory.
Hailey Wood tossed her third complete game shutout over North Duplin for the season striking out nine batters and walking none while Casey Mitchell’s RBI single in the second inning drove in Wood for the game’s only run.
Dating back to North Duplin’s lone win against Princeton on April 5, the Rebels have now been held scoreless by the Bulldogs, mostly Wood herself, for 26 consecutive innings over the last three games the rivals have squared off against one another.
“It comes down to fundamental work,” Wood said of executing against the same team for the fourth time this season. “We’ve practiced all year for this hoping to be where we are. It just comes down to playing A-game ball and that’s what we did tonight and I’m hoping we can do it again on Thursday.”
The Rebels, the defending 1A state champions, had their chances against Wood but could never make the breakthrough with a timely hit.
Senior shortstop Taylor Carroll made two incredible plays to preserve the shutout for Wood and the Bulldogs.
In the top of the first after Mikayla Koch reached base on an error to open the game for the Rebels, Rylee Pate laced a shot destined for an extra base hit towards the gap in left centerfield. Carroll almost instantly dove to her left after Pate made contact to snag the ball out of the air and threw over to first base for the momentum shifting double play.
In the top of the fourth inning, North Duplin had its best chance to tie the game after loading the bases with just one out. However, Wood struck out Brooke Cottle before Natalie Ramirez sent a looper over the third baseman that looked to be trouble for Princeton.
Carroll, however, again got a great jump on the ball and raced over to catch the ball on the foul line on a full sprint to retire the Rebels.
In all, Wood allowed six hits, all singles, to the Rebels for the game but besides the three hits in the fourth inning, the rest were harmlessly scattered throughout the rest of the contest.
“We didn’t put any hits together where we could score some runs,” said North Duplin coach Rickey Edwards. “Hailey Wood did a fantastic job on the mound but they made some plays behind her too.”
Edwards’ ace pitcher, Rylee Pate, was similarly effective as the junior also struck out nine batters and allowed just three hits in six innings of work.
In four separate innings, Pate retired the Princeton side in order. However, the second inning wasn’t one of those instances.
Wood led off with a single to left field and was immediately followed up by Beth Braswell working a five-pitch walk. Emily Ricks then came up with one of the biggest plays of the game in executing a sacrifice bunt perfectly to advance both Braswell and Wood.
Casey Mitchell followed up Ricks’ pivotal at bat with one of her own, a run-scoring single to left that scored Wood for the eventual game winning run.
“They’ve got a really good team and they’ve obviously got some really good pitchers,” Princeton coach Terry Braswell said of the Rebels. “I feel good about coming out of this with a win.”
Pate retired the final 11 batters she faced.
Haley Brogden and Courtney Brock each had two hits for North Duplin who will play host to the Bulldogs in game 2 of the series on Thursday night.
Brianna Myers had the only other hit of the game for the Bulldogs,