West Wilkes takes game one, 2-1
West Wilkes handed Chatham Central (26-1) its first loss of the softball season Friday night.
The good news for the Lady Bears is the defeat came in game one of the NCHSAA 1A state semifinal series, a best-of-three series. Chatham Central travels to Millers Creek for what the Lady Bears hope is a doubleheader at 3 p.m. today.
The tough news for the Lady Bears is they'll have to grind out a way to beat West Wilkes (24-3) and Lady Hawk pitcher Emily Visnic twice.
Chatham Central put plenty of runners aboard in game one, getting seven hits along with two walks and two batters reaching via errors. With three sacrifice bunts put down, the Lady Bears even got lots of their runners into scoring position, having a runner reach second or third in all seven innings.
When the Lady Hawks had to get outs, Visnic had the Lady Bears off-balance just enough mixing a serious fastball with a couple of moving change-ups she threw mostly for strikes.
Chatham Central's Kelsey Hayes retired the first eight Lady Hawks she faced, five by strikeouts.
West Wilkes suddenly strung three singles together with two down in the third and Courtney Lackey's hit into left field scored Lauren Church from third for the first run of the night.
Starting the Chatham Central fourth, Erin Sugg singled and sprinted into second when West Wilkes committed a careless error with a wild toss back to the pitcher ending up by the first-base dugout.
Jessica Cockman, who homered in the Lady Bears wins in the second and third rounds of the tournament, put down a successful sacrifice bunt. Visnic kept Katelyn Moody, courtesy-running for Sugg, on third with a grounder and a strikeout.
The Lady Bears scratched a run across in the fifth. Evan Moody led off and reached first thanks to a throwing error by the Lady Hawk shortstop.
Groundouts by Hanna Batten and Kayla Williamson moved Moody around to third and Antonia Nelson came through with a liner into left to tie the game.
Chatham Central threatened again in the sixth. After Visnic retired the first two hitters, Hayes and Anna Brafford singled, followed by Evan Moody drawing a walk. Another strikeout at the right time, as Visnic had only three for the night, left the bases loaded.
In an exact example of a pitcher "helping her own cause," Visnic came through with two out in the West Wilkes seventh.
With Hannah Cardwell on second, Visnic sent a fly to deep right, over the outfielder's head near the foul line, for a double and the go-ahead run.
In the home half of the seventh, the Lady Bears threatened once more but couldn't get a key hit. Williamson singled and Nelson bunted her to second.
Oldham nailed a liner only for Visnic to snare it and nearly double Williamson off second, who instinctively had taken a stride toward third and likely would've scored had the ball shot through to center field.
Sugg, the Lady Bear clean-up hitter, had the last shot but grounded out to second.
Hayes went the distance for the Lady Bears, allowing six hits and no walks while striking out nine. While Chatham Central got a runner to second or better with all seven innings, West Wilkes did the same only in the two frames it scored.
Nelson went 2-for-3 with an RBI and a sacrifice. Sugg went 2-for-4.
West Wilkes hosts game two today at 3 p.m. If Chatham Central wins game two, game three will start a half-hour after game two finishes.