FOUR OAKS — With a chance to clinch a spot in the 3A N.C. High School Athletic Association softball championship series, South Johnston was hoping to hold onto the winning formula a night after taking the first game in its best-of-three Eastern Regional series against Pikeville Aycock.
Instead, the Trojans uncharacteristically committed five errors that led to three unearned runs for the Golden Falcons in a 4-2 C.B. Aycock win that forced a deciding Game 3 Friday night in Pikeville.
South Johnston saw an early 2-0 lead disappear with two unearned runs for the visitors in the top of the third inning. Then, in the top of the fifth, a Trojan error started the inning off on the wrong foot again for the hosts.
The Golden Falcons (20-3) capitalized with a Madison Walton RBI single and a run-scoring groundout from Allison Shingleton to take the 4-2 lead.
“We played very poorly defensively tonight,” South Johnston coach Mickey Bridgers said. “You have very little chance to win the ball game if you make (five) errors.”
Adding to the difficulties for South Johnston (23-4) were seven stranded baserunners over the course of the game.
C.B. Aycock starting pitcher Allie Phillips gave up only five hits and earned the complete-game victory.
Phillips, despite throwing 93 pitches in the series-opening loss the night before, got stronger as the game went along and didn’t allow a hit over the game’s final five innings.
The Trojans took a 1-0 lead in the first inning on a Madison Byrd RBI single and then doubled the lead when Krista Collins’ infield single drove home Makaylah Tart in the second, but also stranded four runners in the two opening frames.
The Golden Falcons were no stranger to leaving runners on the basepaths and threatened several times to blow the game open.
In three innings, C.B. Aycock had the third out recorded with the bases loaded. Dinalee Spell’s strikeout of the Golden Falcons’ Katie Gay ended the top of the third. Lauren Higgins, who came on in relief for Spell, got three consecutive fly balls after Aycock loaded the bases with no outs in the sixth.
However, it was the third such occasion in the top of the seventh that initially appeared to break the curse.
With the bases full of Golden Falcons once again, Cierra Harris appeared to drive in all three with a bases clearing triple but was called out for stepping out of the batter’s box as she swung the bat.
The opportunity this provided the Trojans was quickly dispelled, however, as Phillips retired the top of the South Johnston lineup in order in the last of the seventh.
“I appreciated the effort that our players gave,” Bridgers said. “Many times the game could’ve gotten out of hand, but we found a way to keep it close hoping that we would have an opportunity to win it in the end.
“It didn’t happen … now we have to go to C.B. Aycock on Friday night and play a one-game series.”