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KENLY — North Johnston High varsity softball coach Chris Batten had two major thoughts after his team’s 4-0 win on Thursday night over visiting Bertie in the second round of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 2-A playoffs.
His senior pitcher, Amberlynn Pearce, was phenomenal. And, the Lady Panthers wouldn’t advance to the fourth round if they hit like that again.
Pearce missed multiple games earlier in the season with a sickness that caused her to lose eight pounds in about a week. Batten said Pearce was trying to build back to Friday’s two-hit performance and said she’s really coming on in the second half of the season. Batten also said Pearce had her best outing of her career last week at Topsail in a 2-0 defeat.
“When we go back and chart her, she probably hit over 70% of her locations tonight and Friday night at Topsail she hit like 83%,” Batten said. “I’m very happy with her. The second half of the season, she’s really popped the ball up.”
The senior, in the circle, pitched her sixth shutout of the season and struck out 11 batters. Pearce walked just one batter and said she’s felt more comfortable every time she takes the field.
“I know my team is back there backing me up and so I feel more confident,” Pearce said. “My rise ball was working well tonight and I had a really good warmup before the game. My pitches were spinning very well.”
At the plate, it was a different story as the Lady Panthers (19-5), seeded No. 3 in the East Region, had nine straight batters retired from the fourth through the sixth innings. North Johnston mustered three hits against the No. 14 Lady Falcons (12-11).
“It’s not like the swings looked bad, but we’re just missing the ball,” Batten said. “The difference between this and First Flight on Tuesday was they made every play on the ball that they were supposed to. First Flight dropped a lot of balls and that’s the only reason we scored 15 on them. I told them if they hit like that on Tuesday, you’re not going to advance.”
But the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference champion Lady Panthers did strike early with the No. 3 hitter, senior Lindsey Massengill, smacking a double that scored sophomore leadoff hitter Arial Pearce in the first inning. Senior Blayke Batten hit a sacrifice fly to score Massengill after she advanced on an errant throw.
Bertie, the second-place finisher in the Northeastern Coastal Conference, made one error in the third inning. A missed fly ball to put Amberlynn Pearce on with two outs, opened the door for Massengill’s second double. Blayke Batten, who drove in three of North Johnston’s four runs, hit a two-run double to complete the scoring.
Lindsey Dickens took the loss for Bertie, with two of her four runs being earned.
Coach Batten blamed the break in routine from Tuesday’s senior award night for the poor offensive showing and said the team will work on its offense as it prepares for the winner of Friday’s game between No. 6 Currituck County and No. 22 Greene Central.
Score by innings:
Bertie 000 000 0 — 0
North Johnston 202 000 x — 4
WP-Amberlynn Pearce 7 IP, 2 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 11 SO. LP-Lindsey Dickens 6 IP, 3 H, 4 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 0 SO.
LEADING HITTERS — North Johnston: Lindsey Massengill 2-3, 2 2B, RBI; Blayke Batten 1-3, 2B, 3 RBI. Bertie: Sydney Cowand 1-3; Lindsey Dickens 1-3.