FOUR OAKS — South Johnston’s veteran softball team showed coach Mickey Bridgers exactly what he wanted to see in its 10-2 season-opening victory over Princeton on Wednesday.
The convincing victory over a solid Princeton team was nice. But what Bridgers really liked was the way the Trojans responded when they fell behind 2-1 in the fourth inning.
South Johnston, which returns seven starters from a team that won 21 games and advanced to the fourth round of the state 3A playoffs, matched the Bulldogs’ two runs with a pair of its own to take a 3-2 lead.
“This group, like I’ve told them, they have got something in them that a lot of athletes don’t have,” Bridgers said. “They have a will and a desire to never give up and to keep pushing and pressing.”
The Trojans added one run in the fifth and six in the sixth to win going away.
Princeton, the defending Carolina 1A champion and a 19-game winner a year ago, took a 2-1 lead in the top of the fourth inning. Taylor Carroll led off with a double and scored on Savanna Massengill’s one-out double. Tori Paul reached on an outfield error and Massengill scored the second run on a sacrifice fly to right field.
South had the answer for Princeton’s push in the bottom of the inning. A walk and a bunt single with one out put two runners on base and Alexis Massengill drove an RBI double over the center fielder’s head. The second run came home on a sacrifice fly by Krista Collins.
South returns its top two pitchers, and they combined to limit Princeton to five hits and one earned run.
Senior Lauren Higgins (1-0) worked the first six innings, giving up four hits, striking out five and walking none. Sophomore Dinalee Spell pitched a shutout seventh inning.
Carrissa Womble and Alexis Massengill had two hits each to lead South Johnston’s nine-hit attack. Womble singled in the fifth and had a two-run double in the sixth. Madison Byrd had a two-run single in the sixth and Alex Woodall added an RBI single in the big inning.
Both teams were playing with limited practice because players were involved in basketball playoffs.
Princeton, in fact, had its full squad together for the first time on Wednesday.
“This is the first actual game, practice, whatever, where the whole team has been together,” Princeton coach Terry Braswell. “We’ve had eight at practice and the rest were on the basketball team.
“We’re rusty. We’ll come around. … (South Johnston) is a good team. They will be strong.”
South had only a couple of practices because the Trojans had five girls on the basketball team that made it to the second round of the 3A playoffs.
“I was real skeptical about trying to play today,” Bridgers said. “I’m tickled to death to win because we beat a really good team. We didn’t play our best game because we made a couple of outfield errors and a couple of infield errors. In a really close game, that will come back to bite you.
“Today, we were able to score enough runs and pitch well enough to take care of business.”
And, on a cold day in early March, the Trojans gave Bridgers reason for optimism: “If we can stay healthy and keep a clear mind and come to practice every day and work hard, we have got a chance to be as good as last year or better.”