This time the ball had eyes.
And that was a great thing for D.H. Conley.
The Vikings rallied for crooked numbers in the fourth and fifth innings as just about everyone provided some offense in a 6-3 win over visiting Cape Fear.
The result, which forced a rubber match in the best-of-3 Eastern 4A softball finals, ended the Colts’ winning streak at 28 games and left alive the Vikings’ chance to repeat as state champion. They’ll play in Fayetteville on Friday at 7 p.m. to decide the title.
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Conley, which had dealt the Colts (28-1) their most recent loss in a 2-1 decision in the fourth round of the 2015 tournament, is looking for its fourth title in six years after winning 3A crowns in 2011 and 2013.
Cape Fear had won Tuesday night’s opener 2-1 in 11 innings, but Thursday’s contest was no prolonged pitchers’ duel.
“We just wanted to go up there and swing the bat,” veteran Conley coach Wayne Deans said. “We were a little impatient in Game 1, and they made a lot of good plays. We wanted to take advantage of any offense we could generate and any mistakes they made.”
Conley’s senior southpaw Emily Kirby, who had struck out 16 in Tuesday’s loss, struck out just one batter on Thursday and walked one while giving up eight hits.
“I think pitching so many innings had an impact,” said Kirby, who will pitch for Liberty next season. “But my defense was behind me the whole time. At this point in the season it’s all-or-nothing.”
Junior Aubrey Reep, who helped her own cause with a double, struck out four without a walk and gave up eight hits in the loss.
“This rivalry is big because there are two good teams going at it,” said Cape Fear coach Jeff McPhail, whose team won the East two years ago before losing to Alexander Central for the state championship. “We had two or three miscues, and defense is what wins games this deep into the playoffs. They gained an extra base about three times. We just have to be more aggressive tomorrow night.”
Only two batters had multiple-hit games. Junior catcher Makenna Matthijs was 2-for-3 with a double, an RBI and a steal for the Vikings, while designated hitter Alyssa Huggins was 2-for-3 with an RBI for Cape Fear.
“We knew it was going to be a tough game,” Matthijs said. “But we knew we’d come back. Emily has been dominant all year. And we have good chemistry since we’ve been playing together so long.”
Conley opened the scoring with one out in the fourth, as Breanna Hardee singled and scored on a double from freshman Alexis Phillips.
The visitors scored three on five hits in the fourth, including RBI doubles from Kaitlyn Knuckles and Alyssa Goshorn.
But Conley came back with three in the bottom of the frame, with the key hits RBI singles from Lexi Phillips – Alexis’ twin – and Morgan Shirley.
And the Vikings added insurance with two in the Matthijs’ double the big hit.
“We turned some of their singles into doubles,” said Colts pitcher Reep, who is headed to pitch for Wingate next season. “They had two big innings tonight. But we just have to stay up and stay positive.”