With four games last week, the North Central softball team knew it was in for a tough stretch with three of their opponents sitting in the top 10 in the state rankings.
On Monday, North Central would struggle in an out of conference game. By the end of the week, the Lady Knights would be celebrating after having gained a tie atop Region 3-AA with four conference games to go.
While Mike Grigsby’s team split its four games, they won the two games which mattered most, including Friday’s 7-6 win at Pelion which has both sides tied for the conference lead.
Meeting the eighth-ranked Panthers, the Lady Knights trailed, 5-0, after four frames last Friday. Things began to change for the better for the guests in the top of the fifth.
Ashley Stephens walked to lead things off as Scarlet Jones came in to pinch-run for Stephens. Lexy McCain laid down a perfect bunt to move Jones to second. with one out. With one gone, Kelsie Gardner bunted to move Jones to third. Logan Coates followed with an RBI single to cut the deficit to 5-1.
NC tacked on two more runs in the sixth as Alexis Baker singled and scored when Maranda McCaskill hit an inside the park home run down the right field foul line to close the gap to 5-3.
The home team scored in the bottom of the sixth to go up, 6-3, but NC was not done, yet.
Gardner tripled to open the seventh. With one out, a Jo Phillips double plated Gardner. Baker made it a one-run game as she singled in Phillips. With one still gone, Erin Humphries put NC ahead for the first time with a two-run home run, giving the Lady Knights a 7-6 lead heading into the bottom of the seventh.
Pelion led things off with a double and it looked again like the Panthers would come from behind to snatch the victory away from NC for a second time this season. But Humphries struck out the next batter before getting a fly out with the tying run on third base. A ground ball out ended the threat and the game as NC improved to 5-1 in conference play with the emotional win.
“The entire squad played a major role in this important game,” said Grigsby. “The defense came to play as there no problems once we gained the lead. The offense, though not scoring at will, pushed across enough runs to win the battle. But the major accomplishment for this team was they did not give up. They believed they could win after scoring the first run in the fifth inning; the smiles on their faces and the tears of joy from the victory are something this team needed.”
NC opened the week last Monday with a 10-0 non-region loss to a Chesterfield squad ranked in the AA top 10. One night later, the Lady Knights drubbed an outmanned Keenan entry, 21-0, in Region 3-AA play.
Stepping out of conference on Thursday to meet a Lewisville squad ranked in the class A top 10, the Lady Knights jumped to a 7-0 lead only to see LHS knot things at 7-7 after four frames. NC came from behind to even things in the bottom of the seventh, only to come up just short in the bottom of the ninth.
“We came alive from this battle and this loss taught them how hard to play to be successful,” Grigsby said. “The game will end up being this team’s turning point for the season if they continue to play like Thursday night. We fought hard and even though they took a loss, the team came to the realization of what is needed to be successful.”
Abby Outlaw and Humphries combined for the win against LHS. Logan Coates, Phillips and Baker and Humphries --- the latter pair who drove in three runs each --- and McCaskill, who had four hits and scored three runs, led the offense.