Inches short

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 23, 2006

NASHVILLE – If there were a metaphor played out before one’s eyes, it happened Friday afternoon.

With Lawrence Academy cruising along, leading 4-0 in the semifinal round of the North Carolina Independent School Athletic Association state tournament, disaster struck.

With two outs and two on, a pop fly to left-centerfield caused a head-on collision that changed the game’s momentum and delivered a body blow to the Lady Warriors’ chances of repeating as state champions.

The fly ball was caught by centerfielder Ruth Stotesbury, but a collision a split second later sent Stotesbury and left fielder Ashtyn Mizelle to the ground. As Stotesbury hit the ground, the ball rolled out.

&uot;At that particular minute, softball wasn’t very important,&uot; second-year coach Truitt Johnston said. &uot;Both of our players went down in a heap and we weren’t about to wait to see what happened before we checked on them.&uot;

Both players were dazed and neither was able to get to their feet for several minutes before the game could continue.

&uot;I’m not making any excuses, but that collision took the wind out of our sails and we never recovered during that game,&uot; Johnston said. &uot;We still had the lead, but we didn’t play with the same intensity after those two went down.&uot;

The Lady Warriors eventually fell to Faith Christian School 8-6 and dropped into the loser’s bracket. During the final five innings of the game, Faith scored seven unearned runs as Lawrence committed 10 errors.

&uot;We never had a doubt this team would bounce back,&uot; Johnston said. &uot;They know what it takes to win and they proved it Friday afternoon.&uot;

The Lady Warriors scored eight runs, four of which came in the first two frames, to knock Wayne Christian School out of the tournament Friday afternoon.

Sophomore pitcher Kendall Street was dominant in the contest, surrendering just three hits and striking out six. In fact, Street was so dominant that only three balls were hit out of the infield the entire contest.

&uot;Kendall looked so strong and our defense worked so much better with her on the mound, we knew we had something,&uot; Johnston said. &uot;I had no doubt about leaving things just the way they were when we came back Saturday morning.&uot;

The Warriors picked up Saturday where they left off Friday afternoon.

They jumped out to a 3-0 lead and rolled to a comfortable 7-1 win over Faith Christian, eliminating the defending runners up.

&uot;We came out to play Saturday morning,&uot; assistant coach Bill Swain said. &uot;Kendall was sharp and our defense was exactly what we knew we would need to get back to the championship series.&uot;

With the Warriors back in the championship series, they had to defeat previously unbeaten Cape Fear Christian Academy twice to record their third straight state title.

The Warriors gave themselves that opportunity by blasting the previously unbeaten squad 12-1 to force the final game. That contest lasted just five innings as Lawrence scored two in the first, four in the second, one in the third, one in the fourth and four in the fifth to secure the victory.

&uot;We came out swinging the bat in the first game of the series,&uot; Johnston said. &uot;We were ready from the first inning and it showed.

&uot;I can’t say enough about the way our defense played,&uot; he added. &uot;Jessica (Johnston) and Jodi (White) made play after play on the right side of the infield because Kendall was so strong on the mound.&uot;

In the championship final, the Warriors attempt to win three straight in one day came up short. Despite a strong effort, fatigue set in and Cape Fear was able to come back with a 6-2 victory to snag the NCISAA title.

&uot;We gave it a valiant effort,&uot; Johnston said. &uot;Our kids fought all day long and we just came up one game short.

&uot;Going for three in a row is tough enough, but when we did it from the loser’s bracket, it became almost impossible,&uot; he added. &uot;Our kids worked their butts off and gave it everything they had. We have nothing to be ashamed of.&uot;

The Lady Warriors finished the season 20-5 and earned their fourth consecutive trip to the NCISAA finals.

&uot;We were able to beat everybody there,&uot; Johnston said. &uot;Cape Fear just got us in the one that counted.&uot;

(Sports Editor’s Note: Complete game details will be available in Thursday edition of the Roanoke-Chowan News-Herald.)