The rubber match was the one that mattered most.
And in a battle of evenly-matched Johnston County rivals in the first round of the state 3A softball playoffs, Corinth Holders was better when it counted.
Summer Long went 4-for-4 with a double and two RBI, leading a 15-hit attack in an 8-5 win over South Johnston in a battle of Two Rivers 3A powers on Tuesday night.
The No. 26 seed Pirates (12-10) advanced to a second-round game Friday or Saturday at No. 23 seed West Brunswick. No. 7 seed South, which won the conference’s regular-season title, finished 13-9.
The Pirates had won the teams’ first meeting 7-6 in eight innings on March 24 in Wendell, while South had won 6-5 at home on April 8.
Shanan Hester was the winning pitcher, with Aiyana Campbell coming on in relief to end the Trojans’ five-run sixth inning. Mary Ann Brown took the loss.
“We stayed relaxed,” Corinth Holders coach Jessica Potter said. “The last few games we had been uptight about making states. Today we were just relaxed and ready to play our game. We knew this would be a really tough game. We really needed this one for our confidence. As long as we keep playing this way we’re going to be fine.”
The Pirates took the lead with two runs in the second inning, adding two each in the fourth and fifth and one in the sixth before the hosts’ first five batters in the sixth inning all scored.
Hailey Allen went 3-for-5 with a double and an RBI for the Pirates, while Kylie Keon and Ashlyn Biethman each added a pair of hits.
Kandis Adams and Carmen Keene each added two hits and two RBI for South.
“I thought we hit well and fielded well yesterday,” South coach Amanda Smith said. “Tonight we were just discombobulated for some reason. There was a lot on the line. Corinth is a great hitting team and did what it took to win, and we didn’t.”
Long, hitting in the eighth spot with runners on base each time, delivered in every plate appearance.
“It was all about watching the ball and looking for holes in the defense,” the junior designated player said. “Then I just hit it as hard as I could and hoped it went through. We kept our heads up when we had trouble in the sixth and we got through it.”
Corinth Holders’ lead looked insurmountable before the Trojans’ bats woke up in the bottom of the sixth. McKinley Johnson singled, Reagan Byrd reached on an error and Anna Webster walked before Keene hit a two-run single to right. Adams then greeted Campbell with another two-run single before Alex Woodall’s sacrifice fly to left.
“I knew I had good defense behind me,” Campbell said. “I had pitched against them before. We can go a long way if we hit the ball and play good defense.”
Webster and Johnson, each played her final game as a Trojan.
“We may have underestimated them,” said Webster, bound for Charleston Southern on a basketball scholarship. “I don’t think we were ready to play.”
Added Johnson, “We won a conference championship all three years I played. I’m definitely going to miss playing here.”