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CREEDMOOR — Throughout history, there have been teams that may have been good enough to win a championship, but couldn’t get past that one team to win it. For the North Johnston High softball team, that team is South Granville.
The two teams have met four of the last five years in either the fourth round or the East Regional finals of the 2-A North Carolina High School Athletic Association playoffs with the Lady Vikings winning every time — including Friday’s 6-5 loss at South Granville.
The Lady Panthers (20-6), the No. 3 seed in the East Region and 2-A Eastern Plains Conference champions, held a 5-4 lead heading into the seventh inning and got down to the last out with a runner on first and second when the No. 2 Lady Vikings’ Renee Boone stepped up to bat. Boone was 0 for 3 on the night, but on the second pitch for North Johnston senior Amberlynn Pearce, Boone rocketed a line drive to deep center field. Sophomore center fielder Arial Pearce came close to catching the ball, but it ricocheted off the fence and both runners scored — ending the Lady Panthers’ season in heartbreaking fashion once again.
As the Lady Vikings (17-2), reigning 2-A state champs and winners of the 1-A/2-A Northern Carolina Conference, celebrated making it to the regional final for the fifth straight time, tears began to flow on the North Johnston side.
“I’m not disappointed, because when you come up here it’s a tough place to play and for our girls to continue to fight back, and fight back and fight back — I, by far, could not be more proud,” North Johnston head coach Chris Batten said.
Down 4-3 in the top of the sixth inning, North Johnston responded with a home run off the bat of senior Blayke Batten. Then in the top of the seventh inning, Amberlyn Pearce hit a homer to give the Lady Panthers a 5-4 lead.
North Johnston got three home runs from three different seniors, but the first homer caused controversy.
In the fifth inning, North Johnston senior Lindsey Massengill hit a two-run homer to right field to score Arial Pearce, but the controversy came on the celebration. Just before Massengill touched home plate, one of her teammates touched her head. The rule is not officially outlined but was a judgment call made by the umpire after the South Granville head coach Jackie Day brought it up.
“To see a coach try to manipulate every little rule to his advantage is unfortunate for the kids,” Chris Batten said. “It’s the same guy who cancels games on his schedule to try and protect his home-field advantage so we got to come out here and play on a short fence in a corner. To see my seniors play as hard as they did and to see one senior have that taken away from her is a black mark and blemish on the whole situation.”
The Lady Panthers will lose six seniors: Amberlynn Pearce, Massengill, Batten, Hannah Wall, Olivia Gachuz and Jordyn Scott. All six were starters and between them won 67 games in three years on varsity.
“They’ve matured every year, and you hate to see one game taint it when you feel like you had an opportunity to win the ball game,” coach Batten said.
Score by innings:
North Johnston 002 011 1 — 5
South Granville 100 030 2 — 6
WP-Brooke Bowling 7 IP, 9 H, 5 R, 5 ER, 0 BB, 4 SO. LP-Amberlynn Pearce 6 2/3 IP, 9 H, 6 R, 6 ER, 2 BB, 3 SO.
LEADING HITTERS — North Johnston: Blayke Batten 3-4, HR, 2 RBIs; Amberlynn Pearce 1-4, HR, RBI. South Granville: Renee Boone 1-4, 2B, 2 RBIs.