CAMDEN — Anyone thinking Princeton’s 9-3 victory Tuesday over No. 1-state ranked Northside-Pinetown was a fluke, better think again.
For the second time in less than a week, the Bulldogs took the fight to their higher-seeded opponent and exited triumphant, eliminating Camden County from the NCHSAA 1A softball playoffs, 6-4.
The victory propelled the Bulldogs, champions of the Carolina 1A Conference who improved to 19-4, into next week’s East Regional best-of-three championship series against Whiteville.
Games are scheduled for Tuesday, Friday, and if necessary, Saturday, with Princeton hosting Tuesday and Saturday.
For the second time in as may games, the Bulldogs jumped out to an early lead, and utilized a potent offense to take control of the contest.
Behind the 3-for-4 outings of Charley Cox, and Taylor Carroll, as well as a 3-for-3 night from Kortney Edwards and 2-for-3 from Tori Paul, the Bulldogs hammered out 14 hits for the second consecutive outing.
Highlighting that effort and igniting the Princeton offense was Cox, opening the game by depositing a fly ball just inside the right field line, and circling the bases with an inside-the-park-homer.
Cox added a two-out, RBI-single in the second inning to forge a 2-2 tie for the Bulldogs, then started a three-run, fourth-inning uprising with a one-out RBI single.
Paul, Edwards and Carson Braswell added doubles for the hard-hitting Bulldogs.
“If all of our hitting comes around, we will be great,” said Princeton coach Terry Braswell. “It seems whenever one part of our lineup doesn’t produce, the others will pick them up.”
Different from Tuesday’s victory, the Bulldogs found themselves having to work much harder for this outcome.
Twice Princeton found themselves in jams, where one pitch, one hit could have swung the verdict in the opposite direction.
But in both situations, the Bulldogs came up with big plays when they needed them.
Leading 6-2 entering the bottom of the fourth, Princeton saw the Bruins , who saw their 20-game winning streak snapped to finish with a 20-3 record, load the bases with one out.
However, Paul, the starting and winning pitcher was up to the challenge, enticing Bruins batters into a weak pop and a soft grounder to retire the side without any damage.
Camden County rallied again in the bottom of the sixth against reliever Hailey Wood, battling back from two-strike counts to punch two runs across.
The Bruins opened the inning with singles from Shelby Tillery and Jaycie Staple, both leading Camden County with 2-for-3 nights at the plate.
Following a strikeout, Jordan McDaniels fouled off four two-strike pitches before delivering an RBI-single, cutting the Bulldogs’ lead to 6-3. .
Haylee Anderson followed suit, with a two-strike single to left, scoring Staples and closing the gap to 6-4.
But Wood recovered, fanned the next two batters to retire the side without further damage, then put down the Bruins in order to end the game.
“Our pitchers will do what they can to keep us in the game,” Braswell said. And our defense makes the plays when they have to for us.”
Wood struck out four in her stint without walking a batter, allowing five hits. Paul fanned two and walked three while surrendering four hits.
Camden County took a temporary, 2-1 lead in the bottom of the first on a single by Anderson, a walk and a one-out single by Gillikin, but Paul retired eight of the next nine batters while the Bulldogs offense went to work.
“These girls are battlers,” Braswell said. “They’re going to fight for a win.
“They’ll do whatever it takes to get it done.”
Princeton got it done offensively in the second, third and fourth innings.
After the Bruins had taken the 2-1 lead, Edwards’ lead-off double and Cox’s RBI single tied matters, and in the third, the Bulldogs took the lead for good, when Carroll singled to open the inning and Paul’s double drove her home.
Singles by Edwards, Cox, Peedin and Pau’ls, along with a sacrifice by Carson Braswell, accounted for the three insurance runs in the fourth.