FOUR OAKS — South Johnston was carrying a pretty big chip on its shoulder after losing its regular-season softball finale to Cleveland on Monday night.
And on Saturday in the championship game of the inaugural Two Rivers 3A tournament, the Trojans got revenge in a big way.
Lauren Higgins fired a one-hitter while the Trojans pretty much scored at will, routing their county rivals 10-0 in a game stopped with two out in the sixth inning.
The game also decided the league’s first and second seeds for the state tournament, as the Rams’ 3-2 road victory over the Trojans — the first in the school’s four-year history — on May 4 had left the teams tied for the conference’s regular-season title.
The win improved South to 18-3, while the Rams are 14-6.
“It’s absolutely rewarding to see Lauren pitch this well as a senior,” said veteran South coach Mickey Bridgers, whose team won its fifth conference title in his eight seasons and the current senior class claimed its third in four years. “Especially after a disappointing loss on Monday night. She worked hard and focused.
“When you make the batter uncomfortable, the defense can come alive really quick. We were able to go back and look at some individual play (from Monday), but the biggest thing was a better mental approach at the plate.”
South put seven runs in the first three innings off Cleveland ace Taylor Drayton, finishing with 10 hits on the afternoon.
“My team did not come out today ready to play,” said Cleveland’s first-year coach Samantha Coats. “They were not mentally prepared to play today. It was our worst defensive game of the year, absolutely, and our worst game period.
“We shouldn’t lose to any team in this state by 10 runs. It’s just unbelievable what happened today.”
Higgins, who had pitched a no-hitter in Thursday’s semifinal win over Corinth Holders, struck out five on Saturday. Cleveland’s only baserunner was Brittany Bucklin who led off the second with a clean single.
“I can’t explain it honestly,” said Higgins, who had been the loser in a complete game in the Monday game with Cleveland. “I’m really excited. I knew it was a big game, and my whole team and I really wanted this bad. I was at my best, and my team played great defense behind me.”
Junior Madison Byrd led the Trojans with three hits on Saturday, including the walk-off safety that scored center fielder Alexis Massengill who had singled to center with one out.
“I’ve been struggling recently, but I know I can hit the ball better than I have been,” Byrd said. “I wanted that last hit a lot. We knew Cleveland was a good team and we decided to come out working hard. We took advantage of what they gave us.”
Massengill, who reached on an outfield error, a sacrifice and a walk and stole two bases, scored on all four plate appearances. McKinley Johnson chipped in two hits with an RBI, Kayla Allen an RBI triple and Caroline Dorman a double.
“Scoring every time I came up to bat was a lot of fun,” Massengill said. “After we lost, we knew we had to come back and take care of business. We knew what was on the line today — a No. 1 seed in the state playoffs — and we want to have home-field advantage as long as we can.”