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A certainty exists in 2-A Eastern Plains Conference varsity softball — there’s North Johnston and then there’s the rest of the league.
The Lady Panthers, No. 1-ranked among the state’s 2-A teams by the North Carolina Softball Coaches Association and No. 1 in all classifications by MaxPreps.com, left no doubt about their superiority, humbling host Beddingfield 20-0 in four innings Friday night in the second encounter of the week of the conference’s top two teams.
The Lady Bruins, 10-3 losers at North Johnston on Tuesday night, suffered the most lopsided defeat in the immensely successful 13-year tenure of head coach Jeremy Howard in dropping to 2-2 in the conference and 10-2 overall.
Head coach Chris Batten’s North Johnston squad cruised to 4-0 in the EPC and to 13-0 against all foes.
North Johnston hitters, who hammered 15 hits, forced Beddingfield pitchers Brianna Hale, a senior, and Neleh Bottoms, a freshman, to throw at least 100 pitches in the first two innings in forging a 13-0 margin.
The mercy rule was mercifully enforced after four innings.
Lady Panthers pitchers Amberlynn Pearce, the winner, and Taylor Jones limited Beddingfield to one base runner. Alexis Hayes singled with one out in the third inning against Jones.
“We are fortunate that we’ve got kids that can hit the ball,” commented Batten. “And we are deeper, a little more mature and older this season. By the end of the season, I will be calling this best hitting team I’ve coached.”
Batten insisted being state-ranked No. 1 is a non-issue.
“I’m sure the girls probably talk about it privately,” he admitted, “but we don’t talk about it at practice (or during games). It hasn’t been mentioned yet.”
Third baseman Lindsey Massengill batted 3 for 3 with two runs batted in and three runs scored. First baseman Lexi Godwin doubled each of her first two at-bats and wound up 3 for 4 with three runs scored.
Senior catcher Jada Santiago and second baseman Hannah Wall each collected two hits and drove in four runs. Wall laced two-run singles in each of the first two innings. Santiago singled in two runs in the second and doubled in a pair in the third.
Shortstop Blayke Batten launched the six-run spree in the fourth with a solo home run, a line smash over the left-field fence. The Lady Panthers slammed five doubles.
“We actually came in trying a little too hard,” Batten declared. “The first two innings, we were undisciplined at the plate. But once we scored a couple of runs, we settled down and quit trying too hard.”
Starting Beddingfield pitcher Hale lasted just 1 1/3 innings. North Johnston slugged five homers in the first game and Hale struggled in attempting to be too fine with her pitches. Seven hits and six walked resulted in nine runs. Wild pitches were frequent.
“We were nervous and getting behind every hitter,” Howard noted. “And when you give up six walks, they have girls that can come up and drive them in. They hit it everywhere we were not and prey on your weaknesses. They are a great hitting team.”
Howard offered advice to his Lady Bruins during the post-game meeting.
“I told them to find a mental trash can — the biggest one you can get,” Beddingfield’s head coach revealed, “and throw this game in there.
“It’s a loss and it’s a bad loss — but it’s just one.”
Score by innings:
WP-Amberlynn Pearce (10-0) 2 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 3 SO. LP-Brianna Hale (10-2) 1 1/3 IP, 7 H, 9 R, 9 ER, 6 BB, 1 SO.
LEADING HITTERS — North Johnston: Lindsey Massengill 3-3, 4 R, 2 RBI, 2B; Jada Santiago 2-2, 4 RBI, 2 R, 2B; Lexi Godwin 3-4, 2 2B, 3 R; Hannah Wall 2-4, 4 RBI; Blayke Batten 1-3, HR, 3 R, 2 RBI.