PILOT MOUNTAIN — There’s a lot of softball left to be played this season, but East Surry has the inside track on the Northwest 1A Conference race as it nears the midway point.
The Lady Cardinals, ranked No. 2 in the state’s 1A ranks by MaxPreps.com, exploded with the bats after a slow start on Tuesday evening and rolled to an 11-1 victory over Walkertown in a game that saw first place in the conference on the line for both teams.
With one more game to go in the first go-round of the NW1A, East Surry (9-2, 4-0) leads North Stokes (9-1, 3-1) by a game and Walkertown (6-5, 3-2) by two games in the loss column. Had the Wolfpack won, it would have become the first team other than the Lady Vikings or Lady Cardinals to lead the league in quite some time.
For a short time, it appeared as if Walkertown had a chance to pull it off. The Wolfpack grabbed a 1-0 lead in its very first turn at the plate, although that was no fault of East Surry pitcher Autumn Lawson. Walkertown’s leadoff hitter, Katie Forss, reached on an error to start the game. Walkertown managed just three infield outs the rest of the inning, but one of them was a bizarre grounder that actually struck the first-base bag and caromed off it. By the time that East first baseman Maggie Holt was able to make the play and then fire home, the run had scored.
“At the beginning, I told the girls that it was reminding me a little bit of when we played North Surry, and we never got the bats going,” said East head coach Randy Marion, referring to a 3-2 loss in 13 innings to North back on March 17. “We were lunging after pitches and not staying back. We weren’t being selective, and it was causing a lot of pop flies and easy outs for them. But we finally adjusted and got things going in the third inning.”
Although they were down 1-0, the Lady Cardinals had little to worry about as they worked out how to come back from the early deficit. Lawson was dominant the rest of the game, eventually going the full six innings on just 64 pitches while striking out four. Coming off a one-hitter in her last outing against South Stokes, she had a no-hitter going on Tuesday until the Wolfpack’s Makenzie Wilmoth led off the sixth with a single. Breanna Butcher collected a second hit with one out, but she preserved the shutout with a strikeout and a comebacker to the mound.
Leading 8-1 at that point, the Lady Cardinals ended the game an inning early with a three-run bottom of the sixth. Walks to Lawson and Sarah Marion, sandwiched around an error, loaded the bases with one out. A Holt single made it 9-1, and then Kelsey Heflin doubled in two more runs for an 11-1 final score.
The Wolfpack’s lead held up until the third inning. East Surry had just one hit in the first two frames against Walkertown starter Katie Dunivant, but Heflin led off the home half of the third with a double. When Anna-Kate Badgett walked on five pitches after her, the Lady Cardinals were finally in business. The lineup went back to the top of the order, and Bethany Clayton slapped a single to center to tie the game.
Morgan Smith stepped up and sacrificed Badgett and Clayton into scoring position, and then Grace Kiser hit a low liner just over the third-base bag and into the left-field foul territory. By the time Walkertown was able to get the ball, both runners had scored, and it was 3-1 East Surry.
The Lady Cardinals had the Wolfpack on the ropes, and they delivered the knockout blow in the fourth.
Lawson enjoyed a 1-2-3 top of the fourth, thanks in part to Heflin, who flashed some leather when Dunivant appeared to have her team’s first hit. She swatted a hard-hit ball to right with one out, but the freshman charged the ball and came up firing to Holt at first base, getting the out by a step.
Then, as often happens, the perpetrators of a great defensive play were heard from with the bats immediately. With one out in the bottom half of the fourth, Holt smashed a double and Heflin followed with a single. One run was already in when Badgett singled, sending up Clayton with two on and one out. She promptly launched an 0-1 offering from Dunivant over the left-field fence for a 7-1 East Surry lead.
“Bethany’s actually been able to hit for power the last couple of years,” said Coach Marion. She had two or three home runs last year, and that’s her third this year. She can hit for power, and that kind of fools people because they’re used to her slapping and bunting.
Walks to Marion and Holt, followed by a Heflin single (she was a perfect 4-for-4 on the day to go with her defensive gem), added another run in the East Surry fifth.
The Lady Cardinals will try to wrap up the first half of the conference slate perfect at Atkins tonight.