NASHVILLE – The plan, and the expectation for most, was that Nash Central would face Southern Nash in the Big East Conference Softball Championship.
Well, that hope is now a fulfilled reality.
No. 3 Northern Nash wasn’t going to stand in the Bulldogs’ way Tuesday night in the semifinals of the conference tournament. The Knights were far too busy trying to stay out of their own way.
Northern Nash committed 11 errors, and Nash Central capitalized on nearly every one as the Bulldogs rolled to a 8-3 victory at Glover Park that wasn’t nearly that close.
“You have to take advantage of that,” first baseman Rachel Pearce said. “You can’t let the opportunity go to waste.”
Having already watched Southern Nash advance to the championship game, which will be played at 7 p.m. Thursday, the Bulldogs’ offense started quickly. The Northern Nash defense stumbled just as quickly.
No. 2 Nash Central (14-5), which lost the No. 1 seed on a coin flip before the tournament, scored a run in each of the first five innings, while Northern Nash committed an error in each of the first five – and at least two in four of those innings.
All together, Nash Central scored just two earned runs.
“We can make those plays in practice, we just can’t execute them in a game,” Northern Nash coach Greg Tharrington said. “It’s not that they don’t want to. I think part of it is we are trying to do so much so fast.”
Nash Central and Southern Nash will not only decide the Big East Conference Tournament champion, but also the season series, which the two teams split after the road team won each game.
The No. 1 seed from the Big East Conference for the NCHSAA 3-A state tournament will also be on the line.
The Bulldogs have been waiting for Thursday’s matchup for three weeks, but it seems like much longer after Nash Central watched Southern Nash celebrate on its own field.
“Last time, they came and took it from us,” Pearce said. “We battled hard, but we want to get another chance.”
After Caley Bass scored in the first inning, Pearce led off the second with the first of her three singles. She scored on an error, the third of six errors by Northern Nash’s second basemen.
Only in the top of third did the Knights cast any doubt on the the expected showdown.
Northern Nash center fielder Jessica Ricks hammered a ball low in the zone over the left field fence. Three Knights scored on the blast, which was a sure home run off the bat. That was all the offense the Knights mustered as Nash Central pitcher Grayson Bass held Northern Nash to just two hits the remainder of the game.
Meanwhile, Nash Central just put the ball in play and let Northern Nash take itself out of the game.
“Even just easy ground balls, they weren’t really making outs,” Nash Central third baseman Lindsey Sharpe said. “As long as we kept the ball on the ground, we were fine.”
Southern Nash 16, Wilson Fike 6
With four runs separating Southern Nash from a shot at the Big East Conference championship, coach Christy Bailey-Reams reminded her team that they couldn’t score all those runs at once.
Left fielder Madison Bell proved her wrong – almost.
Bell’s three-run home run in the sixth inning, and Erin Ogden’s RBI single three batters later, finished the game thanks to the 10-run rule as the Ladybirds cruised.
“That sparked them to go ahead and end it,” Bailey-Reams said of Bell’s home run.
Bell, who went 4-for-4 with four runs scored, three RBI and three extra-base hits, started Southern Nash off right.
She singled to left on the first pitch she saw and eventually scored.
After two runs in the first, the Ladybirds, who unexpectedly struggled defensively, scored six runs in the second and another four in the third.
They batted around in both innings. By the fifth, every Southern Nash batter had reached base and all but two had reached base multiple times.
Nash Central 8
Northern Nash 3
NN 003 000 0 – 3 6 11
NC 123 210 x – 8 6 0
WP: Grayson Bass (7IP, 3R, 3ER, 6H, 0BB, 1K); LP: Amanda Dickson (6IP, 8R, 2ER, 6H, 0BB, 2K).
3B: Lesley Murray (NC); HR: Jessica Ricks (NN).
Southern Nash 16
Wilson Fike 6
WF 203 010 – 6 6 6
SN 264 004 – 16 12 4
WP: Mariah Gray (6IP, 6R, 5ER, 6H, 10BB, 3K); LP: Madison Ward (1IP, 5R, 4ER, 3H, 1BB, 1K).
2B: Crystal Capps (WF), Chandler Adams (WF), Madison Bell 2 (SN); 3B: Morgan Tyson (SN); HR: Bell (SN).
Justin Hite can be reached at 407-9951 or email@example.com