East softball wins playoff bout
By Mike London
GRANITE QUARRY — East Rowan’s softball team got 18 hits while making 18 outs, but even with that odd arithmetic, the Mustangs didn’t have an easy time on Thursday.
Even with all that hammering going on, East’s 7-5 victory against Cox Mill in the first round of the 3A playoffs, wasn’t nailed down until winning pitcher Sydney Poole chased down a popup for the final out — with the tying runs on base.
Poole careened like a bowling pin off charging first baseman Josie McNeely, and then danced what appeared to be the Virginia Reel with batter Chelsea DiGregorio as she hung on for a strange final out.
“I jammed her on that last pitch, and when she popped up, I was determined that I was going to catch it,” Poole said with a smile. “But then I got my hand caught when I ran into them, and I just couldn’t get it out.”
It should’ve been easier than it was, and we’re not just talking about that last goofy play. East (16-6) knocked the yellow off the ball, as Courtney Lyerly, Ally Mills, Jesse Rummage and Steffi Sides, all seniors, collected three hits each.
“We just kept hitting,” Mills said. “Everyone stayed up and stayed positive. We all kept our heads in it.”
Mills knocked in four runs. Rummage, Sides and McNeely produced a run-scoring single apiece.
The first five Mustangs to bat reached, and it was 3-0 in a hurry.
But a triple by DiGregorio and an East error gave the Chargers (9-14) two in the second to get on the board. Then Ericka David’s two-run double and Kristen Stafford’s RBI single off Poole’s glove gave the visitors a three-run third and a 5-3 lead.
“We gave up those runs early, but we’ve battled back all year, and I’m proud of our girls for that,” Cox Mill coach Brian Miller said. “We got back in it and started rolling.”
Down 5-3 and with momentum wearing purple, East was in trouble and under pressure.
“We beat them easily (6-1 on April 25) before, so we didn’t expect this at all,” Sides said.
Getting hits wasn’t an issue for East. Getting key hits was a different story, and it also was hard to score because the Mustangs were extra conservative on the bases. There was a reason for that— strong-armed Cox Mill center fielder Kristen Stinnard — a Catawba signee.
“She threw out two at the plate the first time we played them,” East coach Mike Waddell said. “So while we wanted to be aggressive, when we hit it right to her, we had to be station-to-station. I wasn’t going to run us out of anything.”
East’s three-run rally in the fourth proved decisive. With Tori Gaul and Poole on base, Mills drilled one past third base to score both for a 5-all tie.
“At first, I thought it was going foul, but I kept my head on it,” Mills said. “We needed that hit, and I wanted to get it.”
Then Sides singled in Mills to put East ahead to stay.
In the sixth, McNeely singled home Rummage with a big insurance run for a 7-5 lead.
“I knew that we’d do it,” Poole said. “We just needed three more outs.”
It still was tense in the seventh. Poole made a good play on a bunt and Sides made a leaping catch for the first two outs.
“With all the sports I play, I’m used to jumping,” said Sides, who looked like she was going up for a rebound.
When Poole got the last out on the trainwreck, East survived 12 LOBs and moved on to Round 2 Tuesday at home.
That’ll be Tuesday. East will be at home.