FOUR OAKS — If you want to beat the South Johnston softball team this postseason, it would be wise to limit mistakes.
Earlier in the season, as the youthful Trojans were tinkering with lineup and position changes, would have been the time an opponent could make a few miscues and get away with doing so.
Hope Mills Gray’s Creek learned that lesson the hard way as the Trojans capitalized on the Bears’ miscues to post two big innings en route to a 10-4 opening round win in the 3A NCHSAA playoffs.
The biggest inning of the night was the first as South Johnston parlayed three walks, two errors and one wild pitch into four runs despite Madison Byrd’s single being the only hit against Gray’s Creek starting pitcher Taylor Strickland in the opening frame.
“The team was anxious to get started and I think they really wanted to try to set the momentum and score early,” South Johnston coach Mickey Bridgers said. “It worked out in our favor that that’s exactly what happened.”
Then, as has been the norm recently for the Trojans, who have won 11 of their last 13 games, South Johnston continued to apply the pressure.
A Hot Bat: Junior Kayla Allen has made it a habit of getting on base this year as she is among the team leaders in on base percentage along with Katlyn Johnson.
Against the Bears, Allen reached base on each of her three plate appearances. The result was six runs as Allen (2-2) drove in four runs directly and two others scored in the tone-setting first inning as her attempt at a sacrifice bunt led to a fielding error, allowing Johnson and Krista Collins to score.
“She hits the ball to all fields and is just a real intelligent hitter,” Bridgers said of Allen.
An Added Dimension: One of the many changes for the Trojans from the beginning of the season to now has been the emergence of Dinalee Spell at the back end of the bullpen.
Spell came on in relief for starter Lauren Higgins at a pivotal moment in the game and pitched two and two-thirds innings of no-hit ball to help turn away the Bears.
With runners on second and third with one out, Gray’s Creek was trailing 9-4 and looking to inch ever closer but Spell, upon taking position in the pitcher’s circle, coaxed an infield fly and then struck out the Bears’ Madison Perry to end the threat.
“Dinalee came in and closed; she’s beginning to get a reputation for stepping in there and stepping up,” Bridgers noted. “She makes us a better team. She gives us another dimension.”
A Good Mix of Old and New: The Trojans (19-6) include just two seniors in Johnson and Alex Millay who Bridgers credits for providing excellent leadership.
But it’s the youth that goes along with the two seniors that Bridgers sees as being as important for South Johnston’s improvement from the beginning of the season.
“This team has an excellent work ethic,” he said. “They really have bought into coming to practice everyday and working hard. We’re young and sometimes it’s easier for the younger players to buy into that.”