04/21/04 — Softball -- Hawks' Humphrey flirts with perfection

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Softball -- Hawks' Humphrey flirts with perfection

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on April 21, 2004 2:04 PM

LAGRANGE -- Almost perfect.

Hermia Humphrey faced two batters over the minimum for a seven-inning game as state-ranked North Lenoir blanked SouthWest Edgecombe 4-0 in Class 2-A Eastern Plains Conference action Tuesday evening. Humphrey threw her second one-hitter of the season for the Hawks, who beat an EPC opponent for the 24th consecutive time.

North Lenoir, ranked No. 4 in the ihigh.com/coaches and media 2-A poll, climbed to 14-2 overall. The Hawks continue play Friday at Tarboro.

Humphrey notched 13 strikeouts, forced seven ground-ball outs and one infield pop-up in a complete-game effort. The crafty right-hander used an arsenal of pitches -- fastball, riseball and drop ball -- to keep the Cougar batters off balance.

But her best pitch was the change-up. Nearly half of Humphrey's strikeouts occurred on the off-speed pitch, which constantly frustrated SouthWest's hitters. They had been accustomed to hitting faster pitches, but failed to adjust at the plate.

"She did an excellent job and Randi (Moulton) did an excellent job catching for us," Hawks coach Heather Humph-rey said. "Hermia hit her spots, did a good job moving the ball and keeping them off balance.

"Her-mia did a great job working that change-up."

Humphrey (7-1) lost her perfect-game bid in the fourth on a two-out infield error. Cougar pitcher Stephanie Payne foiled Humphrey's no-hit quest with a two-out single in the seventh.

"We knew what Hermia had, but we could never catch up to it," SouthWest coach Ray Everette said. "Everybody was saying we hit good in the (batting) cage yesterday, why couldn't we do it today?

"The cage only gives you one speed and doesn't mix the pitches up ... inside or out. It's going to be right down the middle. We could never make adjustments."

SouthWest's lone chance to score occurred in the fourth inning. Catcher Jade Leonard reached on an infield error. She stole second and third while Payne battled Humphrey pitch for pitch in the batter's box.

Humphrey worked to a 3-2 count. Payne fouled off four consecutive pitches, including one that nearly bounced over first base and brought up chalk dust. The Cougars' first-base coach argued that it was fair, but the home plate umpire ruled it foul.

"I respect his call because that's what he is there for," Everette said. "Honestly, I was busy watching the runner and was going by what my first-base coach said."

Payne fouled off three more pitches before a Humphrey change-up resulted in an inning-ending strikeout. Humphrey threw five perfect innings and averaged less than 10 pitches per inning.

Humphrey is 3-0 at home against the Cougars.

North Lenoir struggled offensively early, leaving four runners aboard including two in scoring position. Payne recorded six strikeouts during that stretch, which forced coach Humphrey to change the team's offensive style in the fourth.

Hermia Humphrey drilled a lead-off single to right field. Mary Catherine Mills, who batted 3-for-3, advanced Humphrey to second. Humphrey stole third on the same play. Back-to-back infield bunts, which resulted in fielder's choices, loaded the bases for Leslie Oliver.

Oliver hit a hard grounder to the Cougars' second baseman, who misplayed the ball. Chanee Lynch, who had reached on the fielder's choice, scored for the 1-0 lead.

"We weren't seeing the ball and we weren't even putting the bat on the ball," coach Humphrey said. "We finally put the ball in play. That made them field it, and we hoped they would make mistakes.

"People have tried that on us by putting the bunt and making us make the errors. It's something I figured I would try, and it worked tonight."

The Hawks used the same strategy in the fifth. Three hits, combined with two fielder's choices on bunts, led to three runs. Emily Brown collected the lone RBI during the inning with a groundout to short.

"When they got on they manufactured the runs," Everette said. "They were smart. When they had a bunt, the girl was standing on first base and the next thing you know she's standing on third base.

"That's aggressive base running. You're going to win ball games doing that, and they just took us out of the inning."

SouthWest, state-ranked No. 7, fell to 13-2 overall and 2-2 in the EPC.

SW Edgecombe 000 000 0 -- 0 1 2

North Lenoir 000 130 x -- 4 8 1

Leading hitters -- North Lenoir -- Mary Catherine Mills 3-3; Leslie Oliver 2-3; Rachel Cromer 1-4; Randi Moulton 1-4; Morgan Worthington 1-3; Emily Brown RBI. SouthWest Edgecombe -- Stephanie Payne 1-3.


SW Edgecombe (13-2)

Payne (L) 6 8 4 3 2 9

North Lenoir (14-2)

Humphrey (W, 7-1) 7 1 0 0 0 13

WP -- Payne. PB -- Leonard.