HUDSON — It has been more than two months since South Caldwell last found itself trailing on the scoreboard at the end of a game. The Spartans have no doubt been challenged throughout their run, but Thursday’s 4A West Regional game against one of the state’s top offenses provided a new test altogether.
Leading by one after five innings, Richmond scored four more in the sixth to grab a comfortable lead over the hosts. But as the Spartans have proved time and again, no lead is safe against them.
Addison Blair’s two-run double capped a six-run, sixth-inning rally for South Caldwell to pull off a massive 10-9 comeback win against the top-seeded Raiders. The victory is the 25th straight for the Spartans, and more importantly, sends them through to the state championship series for the first time in school history.
“They don’t quit,” Spartans coach Casey Justice said. “They’re gonna stay in it. They think they shouldn’t be beat. They refuse to lose and they just keep fighting.”
South Caldwell starting pitcher Anna King began the offensive onslaught in the second. Jenna Pittman led off the inning with a walk. Katie Wright followed with a sacrifice bunt attempt, but powered the ball past a charging Raiders first baseman and reached safely. King then chose the perfect time for her first home run of the year, lifting a ball to straightaway center for a 3-0 lead.
But King’s self-generated run support didn’t survive through the next half-inning.
Richmond’s Savannah Lampley doubled to start the third. Owen Bowers and starting pitcher Greyson Way drew walks, with Way fouling off six straight pitches before taking ball four.
That brought to the plate Taylor Parrish, who promptly sent the first King offering she saw deep into the forest beyond left field. The grand slam, the Raiders’ 55th homer of the season, put the visitors in front for the first time, and also tied the single-season state record Madison set in 2014.
“They swung the bat well all year,” said Richmond coach Wendy Wallace about her girls tying the state record. “They go up there looking for their pitches. They don’t get cheated when they’re swinging at the plate.”
Madison Jordan came around to score on a passed ball in the fourth to double the Raiders’ lead. Reagan Weisner got that run back an inning later, however, on a solo homer to right, her team-leading seventh of the year.
Pittman took over for King in the circle to start the sixth. Lampley again started an inning with a double, and Bowers walked after that. Way followed with an RBI single to left, and after a sacrifice bunt, Kayla Hawkins singled home a run.
The damage didn’t stop there though. Way came home on a wild pitch and then Parrish knocked in her fifth run of the game on a single to right. King returned to the circle to record the final two outs of the inning, but the Spartans were suddenly staring at a 9-4 deficit.
“Jenna was tired. I commend her for her effort to come in there, cause I know she was tired,” said Justice, who added that he intended to get Pittman through the sixth before having King return for the seventh. “I thought with her changeup, we could mix up those first three hitters and get them off-balance a little bit.”
But just like the Battle of Thermopylae some 2,500 years ago, the Spartans (28-2) dug in and made their last stand.
Pittman opened the home half of the sixth with a walk, and Wright reached safely on a fielding error at second. King then grounded to the Raiders shortstop, who turned and threw to third to get the lead runner. Jasmine Hall followed with a walk to load the bases.
Next at the plate, Cydney Combs grounded to the first baseman, who alertly threw home to get the force out and prevent a run. That’s when the Spartans put on their two-out rally caps.
Ciara Hanson walked to force home a run. Way then hit Weisner with a pitch to cut the lead to 9-6. Graclyn Green, who delivered the walk-off home run Monday against Mooresville, brought the hosts within one after she doubled to the wall in left-center.
And with the crowd up on its feet, sensing the moment at hand, freshman Addison Blair laced a double to center to score Weisner and Green and complete the rally.
“They’re a good hitting team,” Wallace said. “And when you’ve got to throw it across the middle of the plate, good teams are gonna hit.”
Richmond (24-5) had one last chance in the seventh, but King stranded runners at first and second to end the instant classic with the scoreboard showing the Spartans once again on top at the end.
South Caldwell now advances to the best-of-three state championship series next weekend against the East Regional champion, either Jack Britt or South Central.
“It’s just a tribute to how this community supports us,” Justice said. “It’s probably the biggest crowd we’ve had in school history. You got 50 kids in the student section. They come out and they love each other, they love this school. I’m proud of all of these kids and everybody. It’s awesome.”
Richmond’s Greyson Way (17) delivers a pitch early in the game against South Caldwell in Game 2 of the NCHSAA 4A Western Regional Finals on Thursday.
Reach Aaron Schnautz of the Hickory Daily Record by email at [email protected]