There is a new format this year for the N.C. High School Athletic Association softball playoffs, and one that Holly Springs welcomed as it started the first 4A East best-of-three series Thursday night. But perhaps more welcomed was its opponent, Fayetteville Jack Britt, but not because of a lack of respect for the Buccaneers.
After back-to-back single-elimination rounds against familiar conference opponents that went into extra innings, the Golden Hawks were ready to face a team they had never seen before and one who had never faced hard-throwing lefty Erica Nunn.
Holly Springs (23-2) and Britt (24-3) traded six scoreless innings, but the Golden Hawks grinded out a 1-0 home win in Game 1.
It was a stark contrast to the nine-inning third-round 4-3 win against Fuquay-Varina or Tuesday’s13-inning marathon that ended in a 6-5 win against Apex. Thursday’s game took about half the innings and half the time – from three hours and 15 minutes to one hour, 34 minutes) from the Apex game.
Nunn, who had 22 strikeouts Tuesday, struck out 14 Britt batters, walking one and allowing just four hits.
“It was so much better” to see a non-conference team in the playoffs, Nunn said. “Seeing someone totally new who’s never seen me is good because they don’t know me.”
Munchick said there was more that her team could’ve done well. In the second inning, Jenna Firestein tried to stretch a single into a double, but didn’t see that runners had stopped at second and third. The chain reaction ended with a Holly Springs runner being out at the plate to end the inning.
The Hawks didn’t score in the first inning despite back-to-back one-out singles and didn’t score in the sixth with runners on second and third.
But there was some optimism in getting a win when everything didn’t go as planned.
“We left a lot of runners on base and I think we had opportunites to score but we didn’t execute some of the things we needed to,” Holly Springs coach Jill Munchick said.
Just like in the Apex game, when the winning run was scored when an infield error let a player who had just slid into third run home, Holly Springs freshman Abby Snidemiller was able to score as the Britt first baseman made an errant throw to third.
Snidemiller, who doubled, had been moved over to third after Angela Jessup’s sacrifice hit. But the Britt first baseman threw to third when she saw Snidemiller off the bag, and her toss went high and into the fence.
“I had to get back to the base, and all of a sudden I heard coach saying ‘Go! Go! Go!’,” Snidemiller said. “I got up, stumbling at first, but I knew I had to go in hard and I did.”
It’s the kind of play that Hawks have been making all year as it tries to repeat its 4A East title, which last year was clinched at the state’s “Final Four” double-elimination format. After winning last year’s East title, the Hawks had to immediately play a winners’ bracket game.
With a win Friday at Jack Britt (6 p.m.), they’ll have a little more time to celebrate.