North Johnson rallies late, advances in playoffs
By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on May 26, 2004 1:57 PM
CLINTON -- Veteran North Johnston softball coach George Daniels is graying around the temples. Some of that might be attributed to the Panthers' current trend in postseason play.
Two infield errors and Robin Creech's two-RBI double ignited another seventh-inning rally Tuesday in the N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 1-A eastern quarterfinals. No. 1-ranked North Johnston turned a scoreless tie through six innings into a 5-0 victory against a hungry and youth-laden Union team.
"I'm getting too old for this," said Daniels, who grabbed a handkerchief and wiped sweat from his brow.
The Panthers seized their 23rd consecutive victory and entertain North Brunswick, an extra-inning winner against Ayden-Grifton, at 6 p.m. Saturday. Admission is $5 and the victor earns a trip to the Final Four at Walnut Creek on June 4.
Union coach Doug Burley didn't have a detailed scouting report on the Panthers. He remembered two years ago when Daniels' squad eliminated his team from the postseason, and said not too much had changed since then. North Johnston played aggressive that afternoon and right-handed pitcher Candace Evans, then a freshman, had a solid outing.
Evans turned in another good effort, but the Spartans' Krystle Thomas seemed to have the most control early. Thomas, a freshman right-hander, bothered the Panther hitters with pitches that ranged in the low-to-mid 50s on a humid evening in Sampson County.
Numerous Panther batters failed to properly adjust at the plate and hit several infield pop-ups. Two infield fly balls ended potential scoring rallies for North Johnston, which had not lost a road game since its season opener March 2 at Charles B. Aycock.
"We couldn't do anything," Daniels said. "We knew what we were going to face. We tried to set our machine and tried to pitch live (to simulate it) with my two freshman pitchers, but it takes a while to get it down.
"She was good. She moved it around ... in and out. We pulled our heads (out) a lot trying to over swing."
Thomas yielded three hits and avoided surrendering a run when she forced back-to-back infield pop-ups which shortstop Ashley Peterson easily caught. The Panthers (23-1) left two runners in scoring position.
North Johnston rattled Thomas a little in the seventh. A walk and fielder's choice led to one out. Emily Levick, the No. 9 batter, laid down a bunt in the soft dirt in front of the plate. Two Spartan defenders watched the ball roll as Levick legged out the infield single.
Amanda Pope loaded the bases on a bunt single. Burley replaced Thomas with second baseman Hannah Sanderson, who allowed Janna Rogerson to reach base on a misplayed bunt by the Union defense. Two throwing errors plated two runs.
Creech, who batted 2-for-3, doubled off the right center field fence to score Pope and Rogerson. Evans finished off the five-run uprising with an RBI triple down the left field line.
"We just made too many mistakes right there at the end," Burley said. "We practice that every day, but in the game we didn't make it happen. Those two bunts should have been fielded and played."
Union (18-8) threatened to score in the sixth. Lead-off batter Deondra Peterson reached on a bunt. Peterson tried to steal second, but Panthers catcher Ashley Tart gunned her down for the second out.
"That took some wind out of their sails," Daniels said. "That (bunt) gave them a chance there late in the game. That was good throw and it wasn't even close."
Sanderson bunted her way on, but remained at first when Evans forced a game-ending groundout to Pope at second base. Evans recorded seven strikeouts and allowed just four Spartans to reach base in the seven-inning contest.
2004 N.C. High School
Class 1-A softball playoffs
(at Union HS)
N. Johnston 000 000 5 -- 5 7 0
Union 000 000 0 -- 0 3 3
Leading hitters -- North Johnston -- Amanda Pope 1-4; Robyn Creech 2-4, 2B, 2 RBI; Candace Evans 2-3, RBI; Ashley Woodall 1-2. Union -- Hannah Sanderson 2-3; Deondra Peterson 1-3.
IP H R ER BB SO
North Johnston (23-1)
Evans (W) 7 3 0 0 1 7
Thomas (L) 61Ú3 5 4 0 2 4
Sanderson 2Ú3 2 1 0 0 0
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