CARTHAGE — Before the Dixie Softball Ponytails state tournament started, Rockingham coach Matthew Liles thought he had a solid combination of pitching and defense.
Against Lumberton, Rockingham struggled defensively in the first and third innings.
Those struggles turned out to be the key in allowing Lumberton to pull out a 7-2 victory over Rockingham Sunday afternoon.
Lumberton remains undefeated and will face the tournament’s other unbeaten team, West Brunswick, at 6:30 p.m. Monday. Rockingham falls into the losers’ bracket to square off with Fuquay-Varina in an elimination contest at 3:30 p.m. Fuquay-Varina stayed alive with a 15-3 win over Boger City Sunday morning.
Rockingham took a 2-0 lead in the top of the first, taking advantage of a throwing error by Lumberton pitcher Morgan Britt. Jaydn Johnson opened the inning with a single for Rockingham. Ragan Liles dropped a bunt into front of the plate that Britt cleanly fielded. Britt attempted to force Johnson at second, but her throw was wide and sailed into center. The miscue allowed both Johnson and Liles to race home for the game’s first runs.
Lumberton responded in its half of the inning to take the lead behind timely hitting and three Rockingham errors. Leadoff hitter Caycee Roberts singled and moved to third on Katlyn Jones’ double. Roberts raced home on a wild pitch by Liles, Rockingham’s starting pitcher. Lumberton tied the game as Jones scored on an error by Jenna Greene on Britt’s ground ball.
Following a ground out, Makenzie Johnson singled to plate Britt with the go-ahead run. Carley Dawson also singled. August Smith was called on to move the runners up a base with a sacrifice bunt, but was safe at first on an error to load the bases. Casey West hit a grounder to third and Greene tried to force Makenzie Johnson at home, but Savanna Barber was unable to hold onto the ball for an error. After a fly out, Anna Mercer singled to left to score Dawson as Lumberton stretched its advantage to 5-2.
Another miscue led to more runs for Lumberton in the third. Britt singled to open the frame and after a ground out moved her to second, she went to third on Makenzie Johnson’s single. On the play, Makenzie Johnson advanced to second. Dawson lofted a sacrifice fly to right to score Britt and send Makenzie Johnson to third. Rockingham reliever Alyssa Seabolt appeared to get out of the inning when Smith grounded to third, but Greene was unable to make the play, allowing Lumberton to tack on its seven tally of the game.
That was more than enough for Britt. After a rough first inning, she allowed a single to Jayana Nicholson in the third and a double to Liles in the fourth. Britt walked one and struck out 10 in the complete game.
“The defense was very uncharacteristic of us,” Matthew Liles said. “Put that with our lack of hitting and it’s a bad combination.”
An interesting pitching statistic for Rockingham in the game was none of its three pitchers recorded a strikeout. To compensate for the Rockingham’s coaching staff called on its staff to keep the ball low and get Lumberton to beat the ball into the ground and rely on its defense.
“We wanted to pitch to our strengths because these pitchers don’t get a lot of strikeouts,” Matthew Liles said.