FAYETTEVILLE — Middle Creek softball coach Robbie Wray got all he wanted from his team on Friday night, even if it wasn’t quite enough. The Mustangs lost a deciding Game 3 of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A East final series at Fayetteville’s Cape Fear High by a 3-2 score.
But Middle Creek’s players showed all of what they were about this year thanks to answering one of the final pleas their coach gave to them. After a five-inning 11-1 loss in Game 2, he encouraged them to bring more focus and intensity.
Facing a plethora of circumstances – in front of almost 900 fans – in Game 3, the Mustangs nearly prevailed.
“When it came time tonight, they turned it on. They gave me all they had, and that’s all you can ask,” Wray said.
Cape Fear (26-1) led 3-0 entering the seventh inning, and Middle Creek (21-4) had its 7-8-9 hitters coming up.
Middle Creek loaded the bases after a hit-by-pitch, a double and a single with no outs.
The Mustangs scored on a walk to Megan Walker and a sacrifice by Alie Burghardt to cut the lead to 3-2.
With two outs, Kiley Majette ripped a liner to center field but at a Colts’ player to end the game.
“Whenever we get beat – and it was a pretty bad loss (Thursday) – we give it 100 percent,” senior Nicole Castro said. “And that’s what we gave today. We left it on the field.”
Middle Creek pitcher Devin Wallace adjusted to Cape Fear in her third time around against them. She struck out five and gave up seven hits.
The defense behind her was stellar, despite two errors.
“We weren’t looking for her to strike out 21 batters tonight, but we wanted her to throw strikes and let her defense work behind her,” Wray said.
There was a long list of things for the Mustangs to overcome just to keep the score close.
Twice, the Mustangs threw out a runner at home – once on a relay throw from Burghardt and another as catcher Jenna Powell made the play to Wallace following a wild pitch.
Cape Fear, whose only loss of the season came in Game 1’s 11-7 final, loaded the bases with no outs in the second inning but only scored on a sacrifice fly.
Then in the top of the fifth inning, the Cape Fear third baseman dropped a softly-slapped liner that worked in the Colts’ favor. The runners on second and first went back, seeing the ball in the third baseman’s glove. But when the ball was dropped, the third baseman stepped on third for one force-out and fired a throw to second for next in an inning-ending double play.
Undaunted, Middle Creek got up from the mat one more time for the seventh-inning rally.
“We were picking each other up all the time. There wasn’t a second we didn’t have each other’s back throughout the game,” Middle Creek’s Lauren Panella said.
It was the second time the Mustangs have been 4A East runnersup, the other time coming in 2008.
“We did a good job of accomplishing our goals,” Panella said. “We had hoped that we would get this far, but we didn’t really think it would end up like this. I’m proud of how we fought throughout this whole season.”
Blake: 919-460-2606; Twitter: @JMBpreps