CARTHAGE — At this stage in the tournament, it is all about survival for the Rockingham Ponytails team.
After suffering its first loss Sunday afternoon to Lumberton to fall into the losers’ bracket, Rockingham needs to win out to keep its state championship hopes alive.
Rockingham coach Matthew Liles pulled out all the stops to ensure Rockingham will play another day.
Liles used four pitchers, including bringing back Jadyn Johnson to the circle, in Rockingham’s 4-3 victory over Fuquay-Varina Monday afternoon.
Rockingham pulled out the victory in the bottom of the sixth. Ragan Liles got the rally started with a double to left and moved to third on a passed ball. Savanna Barber dropped down a bunt in front of plate, but the Fuquay-Varina defense elected to hold onto the ball allowing Barber to race to second. Jenna Greene followed with a walk to load the bases.
It came down to Fuquay-Varina reliever Jessie Dillon and Rockingham’s Madison Jordan.
After working the count to 3-2, Jordan watched Dillon’s final offering of the game sail high to draw a walk. That allowed Ragan Liles to trot home with the game-winning run.
Dillon was also in the middle of a big play in the top of the sixth. Fuquay-Varina managed a two-out rally without putting the bat on the ball. Madyson Jones opened the inning with a walk off Johnson, who returned to the pitching circle. Johnson threw two balls to the next batter before Greene was called on to relieve her. Greene struck out the next two hitters, but walked Amy Mitchell and plunked Gabby Frank with a pitch to load the bases. Dillon, who had a run-scoring single in the fourth, struck out to end the threat.
“I don’t want to win this one to lose the next one,” Liles said about his pitching strategy. “We have given up very few runs in district and the state tournaments. I told the girls we depend on our defense, which makes every error we make that much bigger.
“We are in a good spot, our top three pitchers are still alive for the next game. I’m planning on playing three more games.”
After errors played a big role in the loss to Lumberton, Rockingham commited just one against Fuquay-Varina. That error caused a bit of concern as it allowed Anna Ausley to race on third on her two-out single in the top of the fifth. Ragan Liles struck out Madi Lesniak to strand Ausley at third and pave the way for Jordan’s heroics in the bottom of the sixth.
Rockingham will get the opportunity to avenge its only loss of the tournament when it faces Lumberton at 5 p.m. today. Lumberton remained undefeated by knocking off West Brunswick 5-4 in Monday’s nightcap. In the other semifinal matchup, West Brunswick will take on Dunn at 3 p.m.
Reach sports editor Shawn Stinson at 910-817-2671 or on Twitter @scgolfer.