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PIKEVILLE — In spite of erratic defensive play at times, the Charles B. Aycock High varsity softball team has been no stranger to the come-from-behind victory this season — particularly against Eastern Carolina Conference rival D.H. Conley.
So when the Lady Golden Falcons stared at an 8-1 deficit in the fourth inning of Tuesday’s North Carolina High School Athletic Association 3-A third-round playoff game, Conley head coach Wayne Deans knew the game was far from over.
CBA tried to fight back, posting a pair of three-run innings in the bottom of the fourth and seventh, but the Lady Golden Falcons finally ran out of outs and saw their season ended with a 9-7 defeat.
CBA, which fell behind 8-0 against Conley before rallying to an 11-9 win to seize the No. 1 3-A seed from the ECC in a seeding tiebreaker on May 5, had its season ended at 18-7 as the No. 6 seed in the East. Conley, which tumbled to the No. 19 seed after losing the seeding contest, improved to 17-8 and will travel to No. 2 seed Western Alamance in the fourth round.
Trailing 9-4 in the bottom of the seventh, the Lady Falcons closed to 9-6 on a two-run double from senior Cassandra Lassiter. She moved to third when the ball was misplayed in right field, and scampered home on a wild pitch to account for the final margin.
But with the bases empty, Conley reliever Lauren Wiles got the final CBA batter swinging to end the game and notch the season series at two wins apiece.
The Lady Falcons, despite 10 hits, were felled in part by their continued sloppiness defensively. A potent offense was masked with five errors. As a result, only five of the nine runs charged to Lassiter in a complete-game showing were earned.
“We’ve got a hitting bunch of girls,” CBA head coach LaVon Matthews said. “We hit the ball, we score runs, but it’s the same scenario that we’ve had in the past — and that’s errors. We can’t give good teams extra outs, and that’s what happened tonight. It’s happened ever since we’ve been in the playoffs, but we’ve just overcome it. We came up two runs short.”
Conley put some degree of pressure on in every inning, hitting safely at least once in each inning. The Lady Vikings tallied 14 hits and grabbed an 8-1 lead heading to the CBA half of the fourth with the aid of CBA errors and timely two-strike hitting. Freshman Abbey Thomas hit a solo home run for CBA in the second.
But in the fourth, CBA found its first taste of sustained success against Conley pitching. Senior Taylor Puetz, bound for the University of North Carolina, led off with a double. Lassiter followed with her own run-scoring double to chase Conley starter Lexie Vincent. After Thomas drew a walk, senior Hannah Carter dropped down a bunt. The ensuing throw was wide of first, allowing Lassiter and Thomas to score on the two-run error. Just like that, CBA, warts and all, was flirting with another comeback bid.
“They hit the ball,” Conley head coach Wayne Deans said. “They just flat out crush the ball. Regardless if they’re up or down, they’re going to go up there and hack away. Their slappers are good too, so you don’t want to discount them. But through the lineup, they simply just hack, hack hack.”
The Lady Falcons threatened further in the fifth by getting two runners on, but consecutive bunts back to Wiles in the circle turned CBA with nothing.
Conley added another unearned run in the sixth before withstanding the final CBA barrage in the seventh. Following a single by sophomore Abigail Lancaster and a double from senior Hannah Vinson that ricocheted off the first baseman’s glove, Puetz grounded back to Wiles for a key first out. Lassiter cleared the bases anyway with her double and scored on the wild pitch, but recorded consecutive strikeouts to end it.
“We’ve come back many, many times,” Puetz said. “There’s doubt, because you’re down 9-1 (actually 8-1). I knew we could do it. But sometimes, it doesn’t go your way. We made a lot of errors, and we do that a lot. But we’ve came out with a win a lot of times when we did do that. They wanted it bad. We wanted it bad too, but sometimes, it doesn’t fall your way.
Vinson, Lassiter and Carter each had two hits for the Lady Falcons. For Conley, Alexis Phillips was 3 for 3 with an RBI. Wiles prevailed in relief, allowing five hits in her four innings of relief. She struck out five and walked two, with a pair of her four runs being earned.
CBA careers ended for Georgia Parnell, Vinson, Lassiter, Carter and Puetz.
“I was proud of them,” Matthews said. “They battled right down to the last strike.”
Score by innings:
WP-Lauren Wiles 4 IP, 5 H, 4 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 5 SO. LP-Cassandra Lassiter 7 IP, 14 H, 9 R, 5 ER, 5 BB, 3 SO.
LEADING HITTERS — D.H. Conley: Madison Bowers 2-4, 2B, 2 RBI, Alexis Phillips 3-3, RBI, Lexie Vincent 2-3, Madison Rose 2-5, RBI; C.B. Aycock: Hannah Vinson 2-4, 2B, Cassandra Lassiter 2-4, 3 RBI, Abbey Thomas 1-2, HR, RBI, Hannah Carter 2-4, RBI.