CLAYTON — A couple big innings at the plate and the flashing of some leather on defense propelled Johnston County South to the Tar Heel Leagues District V 8U softball title Thursday night at Clayton Community Park.
South jumped out to a big lead with five runs in the first and then used a four-run fifth inning to finish off Cleveland 13-2 to advance to the state championship tournament to be held in Shelby between July 17-20.
Eight different batters accounted for 20 hits for the District V champions who were never defeated in the double elimination tournament.
For Johnston County South Coach Dean Wade, it was fun to see his team carry over what was learned and emphasized in practice to the field during the tournament.
“The biggest thing coming into this is that we just wanted to have fun,” Wade said. “They love the game and practice every day just to come out here and get this trophy and that’s what they did.
“We go over drills every day and they brought that over from the practice field to the game.”
South strung together six hits in the first inning to total five runs, the maximum allowed per inning in the Coach Pitch division.
Kealey Wade’s two-run single in the top of the first inning got the ball rolling and was followed by RBI base hits from Lannah Price and Caroline Tucker.
In addition to Price, Tucker and Wade, Hollyn Champagne and Carli Darden put together three-hit nights for South Johnston. Reagan Hassell and Addison Wood each posted two hits on the night.
In the field, Price recorded four putouts on the night including a nice snag of a hard-hit Madison Ballard line drive in the bottom of the second.
Second baseman Kenzie Adams also did her part to keep Cleveland off the scoreboard with several nice plays to keep the ball in the infield.
The Angels did break through in the third, however, as Delanie McCommons and Savannah Morgan reached base on a pair of singles. Emma Glass proceeded to deliver a triple down the right field line to bring home both runners and cut the South Johnston lead to 9-2 and give Cleveland the momentum.
Cleveland, who will also represent District V in the state tournament, could not bunch together enough hits against a stingy South defense to make a further dent in their lead.
Coach Randy Hodges feels the experience will be worth it in the end for his club.
“They are an excellent team and that’s good for our girls to see because we’re going to see that level of competition going to Shelby,” Hodges said, noting he feels that South Johnston will be one of the better teams advancing to states. “If we can hang with them, we’ll be all right in the tournament.”
Isabell Goodwin, Alyssa Howery and Taryn Phillips accounted for the other hits for the Angels.
A key for Cleveland as it advances to the state tournament will be to continue to grow together as a team. With players coming from different recreational teams, it has been an ongoing process for the girls to get to know each other and what they can do.
“Our strength is believing in each other and our girls are starting to come together,” said Hodges. “These girls have played on different teams and they are just starting to find out that they can trust one another.”
Chemistry has also been key for South Johnston and has been something stressed from the very beginning.
“From day one, we introduced (the players) to each other and told them that our goal for the next two months was to become teammates,” Wade said of his team who converged from the communities of Benson, Four Oaks and Meadow. “I think they’ve gelled really well and just become some of the best friends already.
“We’re super excited; we’re ready to go.”