FUQUAY-VARINA — Utilizing the two-out rally to near-perfection, visiting Clayton held off Fuquay-Varina 12-11 Wednesday in a non-conference softball battle.
Scoring in all but the sixth inning, the Comets still had to withstand a seventh-inning surge by the Bengals to improve to 2-0.
“I loved our approach at the plate,” said first-year Comets coach Jay Westbrook. “We hit the ball, put it in play and made some good things happen.
Both teams lashed out 12 hits in the chilly affair, with the Comets taking advantage of the Bengals’ control problems in the circle, while Fuquay-Varina benefited from seven Clayton errors.
“I think the early season rust bothered us a little,” Westbrook said. “The cold bothered both teams.”
Good things happened for the Comets each time the Bengals defense was able to record the second out of an inning without incident. But getting that third out was the problem for the Bengals.
Early control problems enabled the Comets to jump out to a 2-0 lead on a hit batter and two walks off of starter Kaitlan Smith to load the bases, all with one out.
“Kaitlan said she felt good out there,” Bengals coach Deborah Clarke said. “But she couldn’t find her mark; she said it just wasn’t there for her.”
Smith threw three innings before yielding to Cassidy Keith, walking three batters and hitting one, while surrendering five runs on five hits.
Kortnie Blanchard then drilled a two-run double to center, the only inning where the Comets scored with less than two out.
After that, two-out rallies were the norm for Clayton.
Janna Harris stroked a two-out, two-run double in the second, lifting the Comets to a 4-0 cushion, and consecutive two-out doubles in the third by Erin Hollinsworth and Kayla Mashburn scored a run for Clayton in the third.
The Comets had a pair of three-run innings, in the fourth and seventh, which seemingly blew the game open in both instances.
The fourth-inning uprising was disheartening for the Bengals, and Keith, who had retired the first two Comet batters on weak outfield flies.
But Keith surrendered a two-out single to Harris, who was 2-for-4 at the plate, and consecutive walks to Mindy North and Ashley Murphy to load the bases. Blanchard, 2-for-5 for the contest, worked a 3-2 count against Keith, then powered a three-run double to center, pushing Clayton’s advantage to 8-3.
“We just covered our faces,” Clarke said of her and assistant Tim Ryan, demonstrating the gesture. “It’s just a lesson that has to be learned. We need to be able to recognize what to do in two-out situations.”
Clayton’s seventh-inning explosion came on a two-out triple by Murphy, who scored on a throwing error, giving the Comets a 12-6 bulge heading into the bottom of the seventh.
Five Comets batters, including Harris and Blanchard had two-hit games. Lindsey Hodge was 2-for-5, North 2-for-3 and Mashburn 2-for-2.
To their credit, the Bengals (1-1) responded to every Clayton uprising, thanks in part to shaky fielding by the Comets to remain within striking distance.
Three Comets errors led to two runs for the Bengals in the second inning, slicing Clayton’s lead to 4-2, and a third-inning drop of a fly ball brought home a run.
Ashlyn Long’s one-out double and a two-out error by Clayton brought in a pair of fourth-inning runs, and Hayden Parker belted a fifth-inning homer, for a 9-6 lead, which held until the seventh.
Things looked bleak for the Bengals entering the bottom of the seventh, but errors and timely hitting aided the frenetic five run Fuquay-Varina rally.
A drop of Parker’s leadoff fly ball gave the Bengals a runner at second, which scored on a single by Lauren Bowling. A one-out hit from Briana Smith, followed by a throwing error scored Bowling,
Megan Tarpey walked to load the bases with two out for the Bengals, and Kelsey Ward cleared the bases with a double to right, drawing the Bengals to within 12-11. Keith then lifted a lazy fly to left, with Marshburn making a tumbling catch to end the game.
“I told the girls they need to get excited every inning,” Clarke said. “Not just in the seventh, when we get a big rally going - we have to be ready to come to the plate every inning.”
Long was 3-for-5 for the Bengals at the plate, while Bowling enjoyed a 3-for-3 night. Brianna Smith and Ward had two hits each.