DANBURY — The East Surry softball team kept the North Stokes offense quiet through four innings on Tuesday, but the Lady Vikings rose to the occasion as the game came to a close with a championship on the line.
The Lady Cardinals (14-5, 5-2) led 4-2 entering the fifth inning, but North Stokes (13-1, 7-0) rallied, and a two-run homer from Chandley Garner proved to be the difference as the Vikings earned a 6-4 victory.
“North Stokes is never out of a game with the way they can hit the ball,” East Surry coach Randy Marion said. “Especially Chandley. When she comes up to bat, you’re just expecting a hard-hit ball somewhere.”
The win seemingly clinches an outright Northwest Conference title for North Stokes. A loss would have forced a tie atop the standings with East Surry, but the Vikings’ narrow win gives them a two-game cushion with two conference games remaining.
Emily Cummings pitched a complete game for East Surry and gave her team more than enough support on Tuesday. At the dish, Cummings went 4-4 with a pair of solo home runs. Her blast in the first gave the Cardinals a 1-0 lead, and her long drive over the center field wall in the top of the fifth extended the advantage to 4-2.
“Every time she bats, I just think to myself ,’Gosh, I can’t believe she’s not going to be here next year,’” Marion said. “She’s been doing things like that for four years now.”
However, Cummings’ second home run was the last score of the evening for East Surry, and North Stokes immediately answered with a pair of runs in the bottom of the fifth to tie the game.
With one out, Ashley Smith and Emily Evans recorded back-to-back singles. Evans advanced on the throw, and North Stokes had runners on second and third. Smith crossed home plate thanks to a wild pitch, and Evans scored during that same at-bat when Lora Wood reached base on an East Surry error.
Aside from the game-winning home run, all four runs scored by North Stokes came by way of a wild pitch, passed ball or error.
Despite the mistakes, East Surry was tied with the conference’s top team heading into the sixth inning. It looked like the Lady Cards might regain the lead when Hannah Joyce led the frame off with a single and stole second base, but Viking pitcher Sierra Hubbard retired the next three East Surry batters to strand Joyce at second.
In the decisive sixth inning, Cummings got two quick outs before Sarah McBride guided a single through the left side of the infield. McBride stole second base and was in scoring position for the dangerous Garner.
It didn’t matter, though, as Garner launched an opposite-field homer over the right field wall. Coach Marion admitted he was hoping to pitch around the Viking leadoff hitter and avoid that type of crushing blow.
“We were trying to walk (Garner) or stay away, but we got one just a little too close, and she knew what we were trying to do. She just wanted to drive something opposite way, and she made us pay,” Marion said.
Brooke Whittington and Amber Brown drove in the other two runs for East Surry on Tuesday. The Cardinals stranded six runners on base against Hubbard, but Coach Marion was still pleased with his team’s patient approaches at the plate.
He was also happy with his team’s overall improvement from the last time the Lady Cardinals played North Stokes. East Surry dropped a 10-4 decision back in late March to the Vikings, and Marion thinks the girls are making the needed progress as the regular season continues to wind down.
“We’re getting better,” Marion said. “I think the last time we played North Stokes was really an eye-opener for the girls. Since that North Stokes game, our practices have gotten better, the work ethic has been much better, and they didn’t want to go through another game like that one.”
Reach Jackson at 415-4702 and on twitter @jacksonfuller16