No ‘senioritis’ for West Stokes softball team
KING — West Stokes softball coach Rick McHone was a bit concerned about his teamâ€™s focus heading into Friday nightâ€™s playoff home game against Piedmont.
Saturday is graduation day for the school, and standout seniors Brianna Bratcher and Emily Worley spent much of Friday afternoon going through rehearsals for the big event on the football field.
â€śThey had practice down here from like 12:45 to five oâ€™clock,â€ť McHone said. â€śI was worried we would be in graduation mode.â€ť
McHoneâ€™s worries, though, washed away after the first at-bat. Bratcher calmly stroked a triple into right field and later came home after a passed ball. The leadoff hit sparked the team to a 6-1 win over the visiting Panthers, pushing West Stokes into the fourth round of the 2A playoffs.
Bratcher and Worley â€“ who bats second in the order — both earned two hits on the night and each had an RBI. Bratcher scored three runs. Worley, who plays second base, made an amazing over-the-shoulder catch of a fly ball in the second inning while retreating into the outfield. The Wildcats nearly turned a triple play during the sequence, catching one runner off base and almost nabbing another.
â€śThey did good tonight. They are excited about our play right now,â€ť McHone said of his senior leaders.
West Stokes (19-11) advances to face West Stanly (21-4) on the road in round four. The game most likely will be played Tuesday night. West Stanly edged long-time 2A power Central Davidson 3-2 on Friday evening. The Wildcats played Central Davidson early in the year, falling 2-0 in a pitcherâ€™s duel but have not faced West Stanly this spring.
Morgan Manley, a sophomore, added two RBIs for West Stokes in Fridayâ€™s victory. Lauryn Smith, a junior, pitched a complete game, getting more comfortable as the innings wore on. Smith allowed only four hits and walked two batters en route to the win.
Piedmont got its first hitter of the game, Hayleigh Gimber, on base and moved her into scoring position with a sacrifice bunt. But the next two hitters grounded out.
Piedmontâ€™s defense played Bratcher to slap-bunt on her first at-bat. Bratcher did slap the ball â€“ all the way deep into right field, allowing the Surry Community College softball signee to make it safely to third. With one out, Bratcher scooted home on a passed ball.
Manley later doubled to the centerfield/left-field gap to score teammate Ashley Cunningham, in the game as a courtesy runner for catcher Lacey Grubbs. The play made it 2-0.
Worleyâ€™s memorable catch highlighted the top of the second inning. An error allowed Piedmontâ€™s Kaycee Steegal to reach, then Smith walked shortstop Micaela Hayes.
Lorna Duncan popped a ball into shallow centerfield, but Worley tracked it down. She made the catch with her back to home plate, and both Piedmont runners â€“ thinking the ball was going to fall in â€“ took off.
Worley gunned a throw to shortstop Samantha Seaman for the out at second. The throw to first was just a tad late for completing a triple play.
â€śDefense played a big part tonight,â€ť McHone said.
For awhile, it looked like Smith was laboring in the pitcherâ€™s circle. She gave up a run-scoring hit later in the second inning and faced several long at-bats where hitters repeatedly fouled off balls to stay alive.
By the top of the fourth, Smith was humming along like a machine. Only two balls left the infield in the final three innings. Smith needed just a handful of pitches to retire three batters in the fifth frame and only used four total to get three batters out in the seventh.
â€śWith any pitcher, you have to kind of get your rhythm going,â€ť McHone said. â€śVery few fastpitch pitchers come out here and start right off the bat with everything working. She works her way into it … Sheâ€™s got a really, really good screwball. And she had it tonight and it was working good.â€ť
The West Stokes lead grew to 4-1 in the bottom of the third inning. Bratcher walked to lead off, then Worley got aboard behind her with a nice bunt. Piedmont threw the ball away trying to get her at first.
Brea Lawson, one of the heroes of Wednesdayâ€™s win against Starmount, hit a sacrifice fly to score Bratcher. Manley later batted in Worley on a fielderâ€™s choice.
Good things seemed to happen when the top of the order cycled back around for West Stokes. Bratcher hit a two-out single in the bottom of the fourth inning to drive home Seaman. Worley followed with a sharp double into left field to score Bratcher, making it a 6-1 game.
â€śI am so thankful that Bri started to get hot here right at the end,â€ť McHone said. â€śShe had been kind of struggling a little bit the first of the season. She was a little upset with herself but she is just on fire right now.â€ť
Piedmontâ€™s strong infield kept West Stokes from enjoying an even bigger victory margin. Third baseman Sarah Tucker made several great plays on ground balls. Second baseman Gimber came up with a couple of dramatic catches of fly balls.
West Stokes has now won eight of its last nine games. The loss came at North Stokes in the conference tournament championship on May 4.
West Stanly will be a â€śbearâ€ť of an opponent, McHone said. Any time you beat Central Davidson in softball, that is an eye-opener. West Stanly plays in the same conference as Piedmont, beating the Panthers twice in the regular season but falling to them in the conference tournament semifinals.
Wildcat players continue to dream big — of reaching the new best-of-three 2A West Regional series and then making it to Raleigh for the state championship, McHone said.
â€śThey think right now they can win anything they get on the field to play,â€ť the coach said. â€śIt doesnâ€™t matter if itâ€™s here or there â€¦ Weâ€™re going to give somebody a game. Win or lose, they are going to know we were there.â€ť
West Stokes 6, Piedmont 1
2A Softball Playoffs * Round 3 * at King
Piedmont 010 000 0 — 1
West Stokes 202 200 x — 6
WP: Lauryn Smith; LP: Kaycee Stegall
LOB–PIEDMONT PANTHERS 5, WEST STOKES WILDCATS 6.
ERR–Danielle Del Bene, Micaela Hayes, Sarah James, Morgan Manley. 2B–Kaycee Stegall, Morgan Manley, Emily Worley.
3B–Brianna Bratcher. SACF–Brea Lawson. SACB–Kaylin Kisiah, Emily Worley, Lauryn Smith. SB–Emily Worley, Samantha Seaman.