05/21/04 — Panther pitcher pushes team into third round

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Panther pitcher pushes team into third round

By David Williams
Published in Sports on May 21, 2004 1:57 PM

KENLY -- Softball is a team sport, without a doubt. Nine players on the field, extra hitters, lots of strategy moves -- every player and coach has a part.

But on Thursday, the N.C. High School Athletic Association's Class 1-A playoff game between North Johnston and Midway was all about Candace Evans.

The Panther pitcher had a hand in every aspect of North Johnston's 3-2 win over the visiting Raiders in the second-round game played at North Johnston High School.

Evans struck out six batters in a row early in the game and stifled the Midway offense on two hits through six innings. After her team picked up two important runs to lead 2-0 going into the top of the seventh inning, Evans unexpectedly gave up three walks and let the Raiders back in the game.

And in the bottom of the inning, Evans redeemed herself by delivering the game-winning hit to move her team into the third round.

The Panthers (22-1) will meet either Union or Heide Trask on Tuesday in the next round. A win could set up a regional semifinal game against powerhouse North Brunswick next Friday in Kenly.

Midway, the Super Six runner-up, ended its season at 15-6.

"They're a good, solid team," said North Johnston coach George Daniels.

"These people got see a good game," said Midway coach Jim Workman. "I have a lot of love and respect for George Daniels, and I hope he takes them all the way to the state championship."

The first six innings proved to be a pitcher's duel between Evans and Midway's Lauren Strickland. The Raider pitcher struck out five and scattered five hits though five innings as both teams battled each other to find an opportunity to exploit.

"Her delivery is strange," Daniels said of Strickland. "She picked up a new thing with the ball floating around in her hands. We talked about being aggressive at the plate, and she started throwing a first-pitch changeup."

"She did a good job," said Workman. "Candace pitched a great game. Lauren twisted her knee in the second inning and I didn't know about it."

North Johnston kept Midway frustrated with solid defense, gunning down runners in the fourth and fifth innings. On the other side, Strickland continued to dance out of jams as the Panthers stranded six runners through five innings.

"We kept getting two on, but with two out," Daniels said. "I knew we could come back if we could get a lead runner on."

Things began to move in North Johnston's direction when Robyn Creech opened the sixth with a double. She took third on a passed ball and barely made it back to third when Midway tried to tag her out off of Evans' grounder. Evans alertly scooted to second when no play was made on her.

Ashley Tart slapped a fly ball to right field to score Creech and give North Johnston a 1-0 lead. Evans just missed getting tagged off second base, but Ashley Woodall brought her home with a single to left for a 2-0 lead.

With North Johnston three outs from a win, Evans walked the first two batters she saw in the top of the seventh. Charlene Slaughter singled back up the middle to load the bases and Faron Tew scored from third on a wild pitch to close the gap to 2-1.

North Johnston intentionally walked the bases full again and Evans got another strikeout, but then delivered her third walk of the inning to score Joanna Tyndall and tie the game at 2-2. Jessica Griffin then flied out to center field to end the threat.

"She got down on herself after that," said Daniels. "But her team came in and picked her up."

The Panthers picked up Evans as Amanda Pope drew a walk and stole second. Hannah Ellis slapped a single up the middle and took second on the throw to third, setting up runners at second and third with one out.

After an intentional walk to set up a force play, Evans came to the plate and stroked a shot down the third base line. It first appeared as if the third baseman would make a play on the ball, but it caromed off her glove as Pope came in with the game-winning run.

Midway 000 000 2 -- 2 3 1

N. Johnston 000 002 1 -- 3 9 1

Leading hitters -- Midway -- Faron Tew, Charlene Slaughter and Jessica Andrade all with singles. North Johnston -- Ashley Woodall 2-3, RBI; Robyn Creech 1-3, 2B; Candace Evans 1-3, RBI; Ashley Tart 1-3, RBI.



Strickland (L) 7 9 3 3 2 5

North Johnston

Evans (W) 7 3 2 2 3 9

WP -- Strickland 1, Evans 2. PB -- Bullard.