In center field at Fuquay Varina’s softball diamond, there hangs a banner showing how far the Bengals advanced in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A playoffs each season. The words “third round” appear four times in a row from 2012-2015.
But No. 5 seed Fuquay Varina got over the hump this year by beating No. 20 seed Wakefield 7-1 on Wednesday in the third round thanks to an excellent outing from senior pitcher Cassidy Keith and a great team performance at the plate.
The Bengals, this season’s SWAC champions, face nationally-ranked No. 1 seed Cape Fear in Fayetteville for Friday’s quarterfinals.
“Now we obviously got that third round off our back and we get to put another number up there,” Fuquay-Varina coach Deb Clarke said after her team’s win.
Going up against a Wakefield (15-8) team averaging over nine runs per game, Keith stymied the Wolverines as she gave up only five hits and retired 10 of the final 11 batters she faced.
As a senior, Keith looked forward to taking the mound with a quarterfinals appearance on the line and said her job was made easier because of the error-free day from her defense.
“I was just excited because it’s the third round, so it’s hard not to be excited,” Keith said. “I had a great defense behind me.”
Keith certainly benefited from her teammates’ ability to drive in runs, as well.
Each Bengal batter reached base at least once and Fuquay-Varina (19-3) earned eight hits off of Wakefield junior pitcher Sara Harmon, who had thrown a complete game just one round earlier against Millbrook.
Trailing 3-0 after three innings, Wakefield cut the deficit down to two with an RBI groundout by junior center fielder Tanner Allen, but that was as close as they would get as the Fuquay-Varina batters responded in the fourth and fifth innings.
Sophomore first baseman Cathan Soto, the Bengals’ leader in RBIs, drove in two runs with a double to left center that put Fuquay-Varina ahead 5-1.
One inning later, Wakefield gave up two more runs on a throwing error by senior shortstop Amanda Dacunto.
“I know it’s the third round, but we played really tight,” Wakefield coach Danny Inscoe said. “We seemed to put a lot of pressure on ourselves and we made uncharacteristic errors in the field.”
Wakefield also struggled at the plate against Keith, whose change-up confused batters. It didn’t help that the Wolverines were facing Keith on one of her best days, too.
“Cassidy was on since the bullpen. She had her shortest warm-up today and just said ‘coach everything is working,” Clarke said. “We just trust her as she gets into a game. We knew they had a couple of hitters at the top and we tried to throw right at them and get them to groundout.”
Despite the loss, Inscoe saw 2016 as a season full of growth and firsts.
“We beat Wake Forest for the first time in school history. We made it to the third round for the first time,” Inscoe said. “So, for the seniors it’s rewarding. They worked hard and they earned it. For the returning players, I told them ‘remember that feeling.’”