After every pitch Greenville Conley’s Rachel Weidner threw Friday, she let loose a bursting grunt.
More often than not, that grunt was followed by the pop of her catcher’s mitt.
What made things worse for Northern Nash in the first round of NCHSAA 3-A softball state playoffs, and ultimately ended the Knights’ season, was that more at bats ended with the sound of a strikeout than anything else.
Weidner fanned 13 batters, including the first six she faced, and utilized just two pitches – a deadly curve ball and a rise ball with speed – to end the Knights’ season with an 8-0 loss.
“She had a nasty curve ball,” said Northern Nash center fielder Jessica Ricks, who had one of two hits for the Knights. “A few adjustments and we were hitting it, but we weren’t stringing enough hits together in a row to produce runs.”
Northern Nash (13-6), which earned the No. 2 seed from the Big East Conference after winning a playoff with Southern Nash, didn’t put the ball in play until the third inning and didn’t pick up its first hit until the fourth.
But it was what coach Greg Tharrington expected against No. 3 Greenville Conley (16-6).
It’s what the Knights have been doing all year, needing a few times through the lineup before they start hitting.
They just never started hitting, not even in the “Knights’ inning” – the sixth.
“I really thought we were going to bust it open in the sixth maybe,” Tharrington said. “The way we’ve been going, that should have been our inning. We had the right part of the lineup up.”
Northern Nash’s top three batters all stepped to the plate in the inning, trailing by five runs. Shelby Godwin walked, Suzie Sykes struck out on four pitches and Alexis Barfield popped the first pitch she saw into left field.
“We were hoping for it,” Ricks said. “We hate that we always wait to the end, but we are known for it. I was praying. It just wasn’t in the cards (Friday).”
Although a three-run home run in the seventh inning blew the game open, it could have been much closer and much more respectable had a blown call in the third inning not cost the Knights a run.
With a runner on first, Godwin lined the ball down the left-field line. It clearly hit inside third base and bounced all the way to the wall.
Hannah Connolly scored from first on the play, but as she rounded third base, Tharrington saw the umpire’s arms raised in the air, signaling a foul ball.
Tharrington threw his in the air almost immediately, signaling disgust.
“We got ripped, man,” Tharrington said. “That ball was fair. That hurt right there. That was a run. That was definitely a run. That’s the breaks.”
While the run wouldn’t have made a difference in the outcome, another hit would likely have the made score 3-2 after three innings.
Instead, Conley tacked on two runs in the third, and Northern Nash was down by five.
“I knew we were going to have a tough game coming in, but I try to make it light for the girls so they don’t get nervous or worry about it,” Tharrington said. “When they get nervous, I can see it when they go to bat.”
Nerves or not, Northern Nash’s season was ended by an opposing dominant pitcher.
Greenville Conley 8
Northern Nash 0
GC 122 000 3 – 8 10 0
NN 000 000 0 – 0 2 5
WP: Rachel Weidner (7IP, 0R, 0ER, 2H, 2BB, 13K); LP: Shelby Godwin (7IP, 8R, 6ER, 10H, 1BB, 1K).
2B: Jessica Ricks (NN); Julia Allsbrook (GC). 3B: Danielle Nadeau (GC). HR: Allsbrook (GC).
Justin Hite can be reached at 407-9951 or firstname.lastname@example.org