Kristen Krebs slid into third to beat out a throw that never came. When she popped up and looked to the first-base side, only to see the ball on the ground, she took off again.
And when she slid safely across home plate, she had sent her Holly Springs softball team back to the state 4A semifinals.
The Golden Hawks (22-2) prevailed 6-5 in a grueling 13-inning fourth-round playoff test against conference foe Apex that culminated in an infield error after Katlyn Hillesland’s no-outs bunt attempt with runners on first and second.
“I knew she was bunting it, so if she was going to get it down I was going sprint as hard as I could at third,” Krebs said. “We’re such good fighters and we fought to the end.”
Apex, which had split the season series against Holly Springs and finished runner-up to the Hawks in the Tri-Nine Conference, jumped out to a 3-1 lead after the first inning thanks to a wild pitch, RBI single by Lindsay Hodge and RBI double by Kayla Johnson. Holly Springs’ run came from a sacrifice fly by Hillesland.
The Hawks evened the score in the bottom of the third as Erica Nunn doubled in teammates Giselle Ramos and Jenna Firestein, then took the lead after another Hillesland sacrifice fly in the bottom of the fifth.
“They did everything they needed to do to even the score up. And then both teams battled back and forth. You’ve got to hand it to Apex,” said Holly Springs coach Jill Munchick. “That was a great game. You could not write a better game. You couldn’t make up a story that was better.”
Johnson tripled to lead off the top of the sixth for Apex (18-4), and she was driven in two batters later by Margot Medlin to even the score. A single by Alexis Overdiep was booted by the right fielder, allowing the go-ahead run for a 5-4 lead.
Down to their last three outs, Holly Springs used a bunt single by Firestein to get on base, and when a hit by Krebs was mishandled by the center fielder, Firestein never broke stride as she came around to score.
In extra innings, heroics came for both sides by the handful.
Nunn struck out 11 batters in extra innings to give her 22 for the game. She faced the minimum of 15 batters from the seventh inning through the 11th.
“I felt like I got better as the game went along,” said Nunn. “In the beginning I was overthrowing it, and as I got more tired I got looser, and I figured out that is what I needed to do and stuck with that.”
Apex loaded the bases in the top of the 12th with one out. Firestein collected a ground ball at shorstop then fired to home to beat the runner by a half-step for the second out. Then second baseman Kayla Minyard made a diving grab to end the inning.
Apex had been denying the Hawks runs in impressive defensive fashion as well.
In the bottom of the 11th, shortstop Lizzie Margagliotti made an unassisted force out at third to end the inning and the threat. When Holly Springs loaded the bases in the bottom of the 12th with one out, Hodge struck out the next two batters.
Apex got Mackenzie Brown aboard on a single to lead off the 12th, but a sacrifice hit and strikeout preceded Brown being thrown out trying to steal third after Krebs dropped a pitch.
“Thirteen innings – it’s hard to keep everything up as well as we did,” said Apex coach Bonnie Hodge. “One thing they’ve been all year – they didn’t fear anything. And that’s the whole background of a young team. They didn’t know what to fear.”
Starting Thursday, the Golden Hawks will begin a best-of-3 series for the East final crown against Fayetteville Britt, a change in format to previous seasons where all four semifinalists would play a double-elimination tournament at Walnut Creek.
The Hawks have home field in Game 1, travel to Britt for Friday’s Game 2, and will host Game 3 Saturday, if necessary.