PILOT MOUNTAIN — East Surry softball fans had reason to be nervous for the first 10 minutes of their first-round playoff game against Swain County on Tuesday evening.
After that, not so much.
The Lady Maroon Devils opened the game with a leadoff walk and a bunt single, but then Lady Cardinal pitchers Emily Cummings and Autumn Lawson retired 13 consecutive Swain batters before a one-out walk in the fifth inning. In the meantime, East Surry took control with three runs in the bottom of the first and two more in the second, and cruised into the second round of the NCHSAA 1A state playoffs with a 9-1 victory.
“I was really happy with the pitching today, they both did a good job of hitting their spots,” said East Surry coach Randy Marion. “There were a few times we could have put them away sooner and didn’t, but at this point in the season, you’re just happy when you’re still playing tomorrow.”
It won’t be until Saturday, but Lady Cardinals (20-6), the ninth seed in the West Regional, are still playing. They will travel to Avery County (12-8) for a second-round matchup on Saturday. Avery, the No. 8 seed, beat Andrews High School 3-2 on Tuesday.
The suspense was over fairly quickly on Tuesday. Swain had chartered a bus for their road trip to Pilot Mountain, and the Lady Devils (10-10) started off impressively. Cummings walked the first Swain batter on four pitches, and the second reached on a perfect bunt down the third-base line. But East Surry suddenly became stingier than Scrooge, and there would be nothing for the Lady Devils. The next batter hit a sinking line drive down the right-field line that Brooke Whittington made a shoestring catch on. A passed ball moved both Swain runners into scoring position, but the next out came on a comebacker to Cummings. The senior showed her experience in that situation, noticing that the runner on third had unwisely strayed too far from the bag. Cummings ran right at her, then flipped to Sarah Marion for the second out. A wild pitch moved another Devil to third, but Cummings responded with a strikeout to end the inning.
In the bottom of the first, Bethany Clayton led off with a single to right and Whittington followed with a walk. With two out, a wild pitch got Clayton home, and then Haley Jennelle looped a single behind first base to drive in Whittington. Jennelle then stole second and scored on a single by Hannah Joyce.
In the second, East Surry pushed its lead to 5-0. Serena Pickens drew a one-out walk, and then Whittington tripled with two out to bring her in. Cummings helped her own cause with a single to left.
Swain finally scored in the fifth, after Lawson had walked a batter. The recipient of the walk scored on a two-out single, but the hitter brazenly tried to go all the way to third base after the Lady Cardinals went home trying to prevent the run. Catcher Brooke Bowman fired to Marion to end the inning.
Cummings hit a three-run homer to right-center field as part of a four-run sixth that put the game away for East Surry. She also pitched three scoreless innings, allowing just two hits and striking out six. Lawson tossed the other four frames, allowing just one run on a single hit, with four strikeouts.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.