News-Star: Sports

West Johnston finds its offense in softball win over Clayton

West Johnston’s Rachel Willis (3) slides into second base against Clayton’s Mindy North (2), during Tuesday’s Greater Neuse River 4A Conference game.
West Johnston’s Rachel Willis (3) slides into second base against Clayton’s Mindy North (2), during Tuesday’s Greater Neuse River 4A Conference game. newsobserver.com

West Johnston decided to play a different kind of softball game when it resumed its Greater Neuse River 4A Conference softball season after spring break. The Wildcats scored in their first at bat and grabbed a convincing 8-1 road victory over Clayton, handing the Comets their first league loss of the season.

Clayton (6-1), West (5-1) and Harnett Central (5-1) all have one loss in the league, while East Wake has just two losses. Central handed West its only league loss last month.

The Wildcats have been the league’s stingiest defense and pitching so far this season, allowing just 15 runs, but they’ve struggled to produce on offense, especially early in games.

“That’s been a lot of our problem this year,” said West coach Laura Jefferson. “We’ve been waiting too late in games to get our offense going.

“Our defense is as good as it gets, especially with our shortstop (Rachel Willis) and center fielder (Nadia Blevins). And our pitching is excellent as well.”

In the opening inning, West took advantage of a pair of Clayton fielding errors and a wild pitch with two outs to put together a three-run, two-out rally.

Lauren Leclerc singled, stole second base and moved to third on a wild pitch before scoring on the first Clayton error. Tatum Brummitt laced a triple down the right field line to score Willis for a 2-0 advantage, then Clayton couldn’t handle Megan Mills hot shot in the infield, which brought Brummitt home for a 3-0 lead.

Brumitt was 3-for-3 with two doubles, two RBIs and three runs scored on the afternoon.

Clayton put two runners on base with nobody out in the fourth but couldn’t score.

West added to its lead in the fifth when Brummitt doubled in Willis and scored on Hannah Cooper’s one-out ground out.

In the seventh, West added two more runs with Brummitt scoring after a double and Eubanks Eubanks doubling home a run.

Blevins created a run with her speed in the sixth, reaching on a dropped third strike, stealing second base, taking third on a groundout and scoring on a wild pitch for a 6-0 advantage.

West was active on the base paths, stealing five bases on six attempts.

“So many games we’ve left the bases loaded and haven’t taken advantage of big scoring opportunities,” Jefferson said, “to come out like this after basically a two-week layoff is a great sign.”

The Comets tried to pull off a big rally in the bottom of the seventh with Bailey Perdue and Kortnie Blanchard singling, then Megan Strickland reaching on the first of two consecutive fielder’s choice grounders that West wasn’t able to record an out on. Perdue scored on Taeya Moloney’s ground ball.

But West pitcher Megan Mills got a strikeout, an infield pop up and another strikeout to leave the bases loaded. Mills struck out eight, didn’t issue a walk and allowed the Comets only five hits.

“We’ve got a lot of good things going on,” Jefferson said. “It’s a hard-working group of girls. We had a practice last week that we cut short 15 minutes because of the heat. And we had seven or eight girls stay on their own and hit for an extra hour-and-a-half.”

Hannah Ryan went 2-for-3 for the Comets in the loss.

The GNRC race will continue to get tighter in Jefferson’s opinion.

“Garner was our toughest game to win and Harnett Central beat us 2-1,” We could easily have been 2-0 or 0-2 in those two games. There are a lot of good teams. Clayton is a strong team.”

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