Panther softballers excel to earn Final Four berth

Blayke Batten is greeted at home plate by her teammates after Batten’s two-run home run in the fourth inning of North Johnston’s 8-4 win over South Lenoir. (Michael Held photo)

BY MICHAEL HELD & GRAHAM WALSTON

KENLY—The North Johnston softball team showed last week that it is not a one-trick pony. Although this season’s wrecking crew of a lineup has demonstrated time and time again its power up and down the batting order, smart base running, solid pitching and great defense are also hallmarks of this team.

All of those components were on display last week as the Panthers (27-1) defeated South Lenoir, 8-4, in the third round and then Bartlett Yancey, 5-2, in the fourth round to earn a spot in the Final Four and will compete in the East regional best of-three championship series this week against the winner of South Granville and Whiteville, scheduled to play this Monday.

North Johnston 5,

Bartlett Yancey 2

The Panthers advanced to the fifth round of the NCHSAA 2A state playoffs after a 5-2 win over Bartlett Yancey, marking the furthest the Panthers have advanced under Coach Chris Batten’s leadership and their first trip to the regional finals since 2012.

In the first inning, Lindsey Massengill had the first hit of the game for the Panthers with a single, followed by a Jada Santiago homerun. 

“That kind of takes the pressure off everybody,” said Coach Batten of his team jumping out ahead to an early 2-0 lead for the second time last week.

The score would remain 2-0 until the top of the third inning when a Buccaneer RBI double would cut the lead to one.

A throwing error on a Blayke Batten sacrifice bunt allowed Jordyn Scott to score from first giving North Johnston a 3-1 lead.  A Bartlett Yancey homerun made the lead 3-2 and then an RBI double by Hannah Wall scored winning pitcher Amberlynn Pearce, extending the Panthers’ lead to 4-2 after four innings. 

Pinch hitter Gabby Hales hit a double to right field in the sixth scoring Wall with the final run of the night for a little insurance.

In the top of the seventh, the first two Buccaneer batters got on base and advanced to second and third.  With the potential tying run at the plate, Wall fielded a ground ball, checked the runners, and threw to first baseman Lexi Godwin. 

Godwin then threw home to catcher Santiago, who tagged the runner from third for the double play. The game ended with Wall fielding another ground ball and throwing to first.

Batten wants his team to enjoy the run, a run that he set as a program goal when he took over the Panthers before the 2015 season.

“I did want to get every senior class to the Final Four,” Batten said. “I felt like, with the talent we have, if we could do that every four years, that’s a successful run.

“I keep telling them to enjoy the ride and not get caught up in everybody’s expectations. I told them now that they made the Final Four to keep having fun and see if we can’t make it there to win the whole thing.”

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