PILOT MOUNTAIN — One could say that not only earning, but owning the regular season and conference tournament titles would be enough to satisfy a softball team, but East Surry’s softball team wanted more.
The Lady Cardinals’ quest to regain the state championship that they last held six years ago will have to wait at least another year, however, after Gray Stone Day out of Misenheimer upset top-seeded East Surry 8-7 in the second round of the state playoffs on Friday night. The hosts mounted a massive rally in the final inning to close to within one run after being down 8-3, but couldn’t get another run in.
The Lady Knights, representatives of the Uwharrie Athletic 1A Conference, made East Surry work for everything, offensively and defensively. The lady on the mound who would own much of the credit for the Knights’ win was Maddie Hunter who, out of 21 outs against the Cardinals, made sure 18 of them were strikeouts.
The Knights led early with their one run in the first inning. The lead was cut short as the tables turned, and Gray Stone Day held scoreless in the second. East Surry took the lead in the bottom half of the inning. Kristin Hicks, on a 3-2 count selected a pitch from Hunter, and sent the ball soaring over the left-field fence. Hicks’ two-run home run gave the Cardinals a 2-1 edge.
Each squad held one another scoreless in the third inning, but it was East Surry who struck first during the fourth. Hicks came up big once more, being the first Cardinal on base in bottom of the fourth inning. Sarah Marion went in to pinch-run for Hicks, and advanced to second on a Maggie Holt bunt. Anna-Kate Badgett reached base by walk and put runners on the corners. Bethany Clayton’s at-bat allowed the next Cardinal to cross home on an error. The one run was all the Cardinals could muster out as they left one runner on base. After the conclusion of four complete innings, East Surry was on top 3-1.
The fifth inning changed everything, for both dugouts, and in all aspects of the game. Gray Stone Day logged six runs to open up the first half of the inning. The first Knight reached base by walk, and the second batter placed runners on first and second base with a line drive straight up the middle. The next visitor walked to load the bases, all with no outs accounted for. The Cardinals sealed the first out on the Knights at home, but the bases were still loaded. Hunter laid down an infield chopper and reached first safely while plating the first of six Knight runs of the inning. An even 3-3 mark was reached when another chopper skipped past the East Surry infield. A double to center field plated two more Knights and made the score 5-3 in favor of the opposition. The last Knight up to bat of the fifth inning saw runners of second and third base. The runner on third was guided home with another hit that struck the fence. Six Knight runs were registered off of four hits and two East Surry errors. The Cardinals were able to get out of the jam while leaving two additional Knights on base. In the home team’s time with the bats in the fifth, no one was able to reach base, resulting in a 7-3 mark after five complete innings.
Gray Stone Day plated one more run, which on the night would be their final when a fly out to right field resulted in a triple, followed by a double, which also reached the outfield. The Knights posted one run off of one hit and left a runner stranded on base.
The Cardinals would not lessen their deficit until the seventh inning, while down by five runs. In the bottom of the seventh inning, Clayton reached base via a walk, which was followed by Morgan Smith’s base hit. Grace Kiser stepped up to the plate, with one out, and with runners on first and second base and sent a pop fly barely into the green, loading the bases. Autumn Lawson’s line drive in the bottom of the seventh gave the Cardinals the hope they were desperately searching for, and with her centerfield line drive, she was able to plate two Cardinals and make the score 8-5. Then Allie Bruner doubled and drove in two more runs, pulling East Surry within 8-7. There was only one out in the inning, but two strikeouts sent the Knights into the third round of the playoffs while leaving the potential tying run at second base.
The Cardinals finished the season 24-4 overall, and with a perfect 10-0 in Northwest 1A action.
East Surry had hoped to go all the way this season, but should have another opportunity a year from now, with six freshman starters back for their sophomore season, along with Lawson, who won Northwest Co-Player of the Year honors and tournament MVP this season as a junior. The Lady Cardinals had no seniors on this year’s roster.