Wakefield softball needed an equalizer, a way to separate from a Millbrook team with which it had split the regular-season series.
With a chance to make school history, the Wolverines found it in the fifth inning. They turned a double play with the bases loaded, spurring their 11-4 victory over the visiting Wildcats Friday.
No. 20 Wakefield (15-7) advanced to the third round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A playoffs for the first time in program history and will travel to No. 5 Fuquay-Varina Tuesday.
Wolverines coach Danny Inscoe said his team thrives under that type of pressure.
“Our team has been in this situation: bases loaded, no outs,” he said. “That’s where they live. They rise to the challenge with that. I’m more relaxed with people on base. (The double play) was huge. The whole game it was 4-2, and in that inning we capitalized.”
Just two runs ahead of Millbrook (11-11) in the top of the fifth, Wildcats cleanup Emiley Burriss led off with a single, followed by a double by pitcher Nichole Mooney. Hannah Jones grounded a single to left to become the third straight Wildcats batter to reach base.
With poise and the maximum trust in her defense – an infield comprised of the team’s three seniors, Wakefield starter Sara Harmon battled with Mariah Mook to collect a strikeout (six pitches). She induced a ground ball off the next batter, Rylee Thomas, and vacuumed it up with her glove. With Burriss headed home, Harmon had to act quickly. She lined the ball to catcher Bella Buccellato to take Burriss out and Buccellato hammered the ball to first to put out Thomas.
The double play sparked the Wolverines, whose offense followed up with two runs for a 6-2 lead at the end of the sixth.
“We knew we were going to do it,” Harmon said. “We executed it and made a big play, and, yeah, that was a big part of the game.”
Harmon pitched a complete game, gathering 108 pitches and five strikeouts for the victory on the mound. The first few innings turned out to be a pitching duel between Harmon and Mooney, who fanned seven over five innings. Mooney struck out three consecutive Wolverines to retire the third inning – two looking.
Wakefield scored five runs on four hits in the sixth to close the door, Buccellato collecting her game-best third run on an Amanda Dacunto (2-for-3, RBI) sac fly.
“That double play hurt us. I think that basically sucked the life out of us,” Millbrook coach Josh Bunting said. “We knew we were running out of time. But I tell you what, at the end of the game, that last inning, I could tell the girls still had it in them. I’m proud to see that because we have a lot of young girls. Hopefully, we can work from that for next year.”
Millbrook squeezed its final effort of the season when Burriss, who was intentionally walked in the third, led off the seventh with a solo home run, followed by a Hannah Janicki double two batters later.
“We would much rather put her on first,” Inscoe said of walking Burriss. “They only scored two runs. As you saw, her hit would have been four. We know what she can do. When I call time and we do that, we do it for a reason.”
Jessika Morgan: 919-829-4538, @JessikaMorgan