ROCKINGHAM — The Richmond softball team was on the verge of snapping South Caldwell’s 23-game winning streak and taking a one-game lead over the Spartans in the NCHSAA 4A Western Regional Finals.
With the bases loaded in the bottom of the second inning, thanks to Kayla Hawkins’ lead-off single and a couple of South Caldwell’s defensive errors, freshman infielder Payton Chappell whipped one down the third-base line in order to score two runners and give the Lady Raiders an early 2-0 advantage.
Chappell would advance to second base on the hit and move Madison Jordan, sophomore left fielder, from first to third with the team only facing one out. Nothing came of the two runners being in scoring position, however, as Savannah Lampley struck out and Owen Bowers hit a fly ball to end the inning.
From then on, similar to its win over Hickory Ridge in the fourth round, Richmond hit a snag at the plate and failed to score any more runs. South Caldwell, on the other hand, plated three runs on five hits over the last five innings and escaped Game 1 with a 3-2 victory on Wednesday.
“We jumped out and got those two runs, but the big part that hurt us was that we had runners on second and third with one out and we left those runners there. I feel like that was the push point,” Richmond head coach Wendy Wallace said. “I feel like if we could’ve got those runs across earlier — not saying that (South Caldwell) would’ve quit — but that would’ve put a little more pressure on them and taken some of that pressure off of Greyson (Way).”
No. 2 South Caldwell (27-2) went through its lineup quick in the third inning but got a much-needed hit and run at the top of the fourth from freshman Reagan Weisner, who led off with a solo home run that got the away crowd cheering.
The Spartans continued to keep Richmond’s bats at bay through the bottom half of the fourth and fifth innings and then took the lead for good at the top of the sixth. Freshman Cydney Combs hit a lead-off single and was brought home soon thereafter when fellow freshman Ciara Hanson smacked an RBI double, tying the game at 2-all.
Senior infielder Gracyln Green — who hit a walk-off, two-run homer on Monday to help South Caldwell advance past Mooresville — followed with a single of her own two bats later. Teammate Addison Blair, a freshman, scored Hanson from third base with a sacrifice fly deep into left field to help the away team take the 3-2 lead.
“You can’t take anything away (from South Caldwell). They’re a great hitting team and they outhit us tonight, that’s the name of the game,” Wallace said.
No. 1 Richmond (24-4) had the top of its lineup come back around at the bottom of the seventh inning.
Lead-off batter Savannah Lampley, junior shortstop, slapped one deep into center field but South Caldwell’s center fielder “made a great catch on it.” Senior catcher Owen Bowers was up next and ended up drawing a walk on a full count. Both Way, junior ace, and Bri Baysek, senior outfielder, followed at the plate but got caught swinging — giving South Caldwell’s Jenna Pittman her sixth and seventh strikeouts of the night and bringing the game to a close.
“We knew coming in that it was going to be who put up the most hits and we just didn’t capitalize. We hit several balls hard right at them but they played us on the fence, and based on the scouting reports, that’s what I would do against us too,” Wallace said. “We’ve just got to adjust, have a short memory and be ready to battle tomorrow when we go up there.”
No. 1 Richmond (24-4) will travel to Hudson on Thursday for Game 2 at 6 p.m.
If the Lady Raiders win, the teams will play the final game of the three-game series at Richmond on Saturday. If they lose, they will watch as the Spartans advance to the State Championship Series.
“We’ve got to outhit them,” Wallace said. “We’re going to go out there and play defense, throw the ball and do what we know how to do. We just hope that we can keep putting the bat on the ball and maybe we’ll have more (hits) that fall.”
Reach sports editor Leon Hargrove Jr. by phone at 910-817-2673 or by email at [email protected].com. For stories, scores and updates, follow the Daily Journal’s sports section on Twitter @RCDailySports.