For the first time in the best-of-three 1A state softball championship series held at N.C. State University’s Dail Softball Stadium, the team that struck first didn’t prevail.
In the third and deciding game Saturday afternoon, Princeton saved the best for last as Casey Mitchell’s two-run homer in the bottom of the sixth inning powered the Bulldogs past North Stanly 3-2 to win the 1A softball title for the first time in school history.
Trailing 2-0, the Bulldogs cut the lead in half in the bottom of the fifth inning on a Hailey Wood RBI single before Mitchell came up with the biggest hit of the series one inning later.
After Emily Ricks drew a leadoff walk, Mitchell worked a full count and, on the ninth pitch of the at bat, launched a homerun over the centerfield wall, stunning the Comets.
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“Honestly I wasn’t really thinking, I was just getting up there hoping that I would get a hit and I just wanted to bring a win for my team,” said Mitchell, who was named the series MVP. “I’m glad that I could hit a homerun and win it for my team.”
Princeton starting pitcher Hailey Wood made quick work of North Stanly in the top of the seventh, retiring them on five pitches and ending on a groundball to third baseman Ricks who easily threw over to Braswell for the last out of the season.
The Bulldogs ended their season at 24-3.
“It means a lot because the girls have worked hard and did what we set out to do at the beginning of the year,” Princeton coach Terry Braswell said. “We’re short on numbers and they had to dig down and do it all themselves and the girls stepped up and played ball.”
Princeton indeed had to dig down deep as North Stanly took the early lead in the third and decisive game.
North Stanly (25-6) struck first in the top of the fourth inning when Weslyn Almond led off with a double for her first hit of the series. After a groundout advanced Almond to third base, Sam Hogan hit a ball up the middle that scored Almond and saw Hogan just beat the throw to first.
After Princeton’s Wood recorded the second out of the inning, which allowed Hogan to reach second base, Alexa Sells doubled to shallow left field to plate Hogan for the 2-0 lead.
Princeton cut the lead in half in the bottom of the fifth inning. With one out, Megan Bryant singled to left field, stole second and advanced to third on a throwing error from North Stanly catcher Heidi Smith. Three batters later, Hailey Wood came through with a RBI infield single to bring Bryant home.
The Comets almost added to their lead in the top of the sixth when consecutive hits from Keri Faulkner and Sam Hogan led to North Stanly having runners on first and third with two outs.
Alexa Sells hit a hard shot to Princeton third baseman Emily Ricks who first bobbled the ball but then fired over to first just in time to beat Sells denying North Stanly a third run.
Wood ended the game with her second win of the day after the Bulldogs forced a third game with an 8-1 victory in the second game. The Appalachian State signee ended the series with 17 strikeouts versus just three walks in 18 innings of work.
“This is pretty incredible; a dream come true,” Wood said. “I’m glad I got to do it with the girls who I have played ball with since I was four.
“It’s a pretty good feeling.”