BENSON — The West Johnston softball team needed a big performance in a big game Tuesday night as the Wildcats hosted Clayton in a key Greater Neuse River Conference 4A battle.
West Johnston needn’t look any further than sophomore pitcher Megan Mills, who was near flawless in the Wildcats’ 3-0 win over the Comets that gave West Johnston the inside track at securing second place in the tightly packed Greater Neuse standings.
Mills struck out seven, walked one and allowed just one hit all night and made the three runs the Wildcats scratched out in the first inning hold up.
“It was big because we needed this game tonight,” West Johnston coach Warren Singleton said. “She made the difference with her pitching.”
The Wildcats moved to 9-4 in the GNRC with the victory, the team’s fourth in a row, and headed into Thursday night’s scheduled contest against Harnett Central needing a win to finish the regular season in second place and thus securing an automatic berth to the state playoffs.
Similar to the first time the teams squared off against each other, West Johnston jumped out in front with three runs in the first inning.
After Nadia Blevins and Kristen Power started the inning with a pair of singles, third baseman Rachel Willis brought them both home with a double to the gap in left centerfield. Willis would later score on a RBI single from Lauren LeClerc.
“Their first inning they came out and got some hits and scored some runs and then we settled down,” Clayton coach Jay Westbrook said. “We’ve had two bad innings these last two games and we just haven’t come out (on top).
“The sun will shine again on us.”
Clayton starting pitcher Bailey Perdue, along with some great defensive plays turned in by the Comets’ defense, prevented the Wildcats from getting on the scoreboard the rest of the night.
Clayton (11-7 overall, 8-5 GNRC) turned two double plays and left fielder Kayla Mashburn made a sensational diving catch in foul territory in the second inning to help keep West Johnston at bay.
The Comets could manage just one hit, however, a leadoff single from Kortnie Blanchard to start the fifth inning.
A pair of sacrifice bunts, handled well by Willis, moved Blanchard to third base before Mills retired Erin Hollingsworth to end the threat.
“We’ve been working on (fielding bunts) and we made a few changes that allowed us to get there quicker,” Singleton said. “That’s been our nemesis all along so we had to fix that problem.”
The Comets managed to get two other runners into scoring position—Ashley Murphy after getting hit by a pitch and stealing a base in the second inning and Jenna Harris after reaching on an error and moving to third base on a shallow fly ball.
In each instance, however, Mills elicited weak infield pop flies for the third out.
Mills allowed just four base runners all night long as she was in complete control of her pitches and the strike zone.
The sophomore hurler needed just 83 pitches, 61 of which were strikes, to nab the complete game victory.
“I just kept working inside and outside,” Mills said. “I guess going where they didn’t think it was going helped a lot.”
Willis went 2-for-3 at the plate for the Wildcats. LeClerc and Power also finished the game with two hits each for West Johnston.
Clayton fell into a third place tie with East Wake and Harnett Central with a game left to play against Southeast Raleigh.
“We’re just going to go play and have some fun,” Westbrook said. “I told the girls that we’re going to go back and relax and go back to doing the things that we were doing early in the season.”