Lady Panthers’ special run ends at Final Four

The North Johnston softball team poses with its 2A Eastern Regional runner-up plaque. (Michael Held photo)

BY MICHAEL HELD

Sports editor

CREEDMOOR—For the fourth consecutive year, the South Granville softball team advanced to compete for the 2A state championship and for the second consecutive season, it ended a special run for North Johnston in the process.

The Panthers (27-3) fell to the Vikings (26-0) two games to none in the Eastern Regional championship series losing game 2 at South Granville, 7-3, the day after dropping the opening game of the series, 12-9.

Struggling against a team that has won 104 games versus just five defeats in a four-year span and claimed two state titles might not be the most surprising but the uncharacteristic way in which the series played out was indeed unexpected.

“I definitely wouldn’t have expected them to play out the way they did,” said North Johnston coach Chris Batten. “I feel like last night was, you hate to call it a fluke because they did their job in making it happen…but I felt we played better today but still uncharacteristically more than anything, offensively we just were not as relaxed and as smooth as we’ve been all year.”

It started out well for the Panthers in the second game. After Jada Santiago homered in her first plate appearance in the first game, South Granville chose to intentionally walk the senior standout the rest of the series. Knowing this, Batten shifted the lineup around to get Santiago to the leadoff spot to cycle her through as many times as possible knowing that meant an automatic runner on base.

True to form the Vikings walked Santiago to start the game and Lindsey Massengill came through with an RBI double to push the Panthers out in front 1-0. However, as the Panthers also had a problem in the first game in the series in bringing home runners in scoring position, North Johnston was held to just the one run stranding Massengill on second with one out as the Panthers lineup just wasn’t as consistent top to bottom as it had been all season long.

South Granville then took the lead for good in the bottom of the inning as a hit batsman with the bases loaded and then a peculiar play in which the Vikings’ Bri Coleman hit into an intentional fly ball out that wasn’t fielded allowing Jenna Curry to tag up from third gave the defending Eastern regional champs a 2-1 lead.

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