05/22/05 — A long time coming: Saints earn first playoff win in 10 seasons

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A long time coming: Saints earn first playoff win in 10 seasons

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on May 22, 2005 2:17 AM

WINDSOR -- Southern Wayne pitcher Karen Thornton sat with her teammates and tossed the softball up in the air while listening to coach Brad Matthews' postgame speech Saturday afternoon.

Thornton's eyes never the left the bright-yellow sphere scuffed with bat and dirt marks. When the team broke the huddle, she clutched it in her right hand and seemed determined to keep the ball for herself.

Who could blame her?

After all, the trophy symbolized a first in school history -- an 11-2 conquest of Bertie in the N.C. High School Athletic Association Class 3-A fast-pitch playoffs. It was the Saints' first postseason appearance -- and victory -- since 1995 when they competed on the slow-pitch scene in the Mideastern 4-A Conference.

"I've got a good group right here," said Southern Wayne coach Brad Matthews. "These are very coachable girls and they work hard day in and out. You can't ask for anything more from them."

Or from Thornton.

One of four seniors, Thornton battled excitement and nerves in the first inning. The Falcons (9-11) collected two hits, including Jessica Adams' two-run double.

"Oh goodness," Matthews said. "I thought this might be one of those high-scoring games. But Karen settled down and started hitting her spots again like she's done all year."

Thornton benefited from an inning-ending double play in the first. She retired seven consecutive batters before issuing a lead-off walk to Jordan Mizelle in the fourth. Adams hit into a fielder's choice and was left stranded as Thornton rediscovered her groove.

The next seven Falcons failed to reach base with the Saints holding a commanding 8-2 lead.

"After I settled down, I started pitching like I wanted to," said Thornton. "I got back focused and knew what I had to do. I'm not an overpowering pitcher, but I can hit my spots and throw them off.

"I moved the ball around a lot (on the plate) and threw a change-up in there every now and then."

While Thornton handcuffed Bertie, her teammates pushed 11 runs across on nine hits. The Saints benefited from six Falcon errors which led to seven unearned runs.

Despite not getting a hit in the opening inning, Southern Wayne profited from two walks, a wild pitch, an infield error and a passed ball on a strikeout. Haley Fail added an run-scoring single in the second, while Scarlett Joyner stole home after a pop-up in foul territory behind the plate.

Matthews couldn't have been more pleased with his team's aggressivness.

"Everyone of our girls were ready to play today," Matthews said. "I couldn't have been more proud of them. Defensively, we held them down and I knew with the hitters we had that we had a real good chance to win the ball game."

Fail and Lindsay Jarnigan paced the Saints' offense with two hits apiece. Five starters had at least one hit each, while Brianna Loftin and Beth Brown each contributed a pinch-hit single.

Loftin drove in two runs.

Defensively, first baseman Lynn Grantham collected eight putouts. Catcher Katie Westfall recorded six putouts and one assist. Rachel Reynolds, a sophomore third baseman, provided three putouts and one assist.

The Saints didn't commit an error.

With its 22nd playoff victory overall since 1987, Southern Wayne drew a second-round date at conference foe South Central. The Falcons, the No. 2 seed from the Eastern Carolina Conference, nipped Wilson Fike 2-1 on Friday afternoon.

"I feel like we've got the momentum going and hopefully it will carry into Tuesday," a grinning Matthews said. "They're ready to play right now."