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Lady Warriors edge Ridgecroft, gain Final Four

MERRY HILL – Two teams who are familiar with each other squared off here Tuesday afternoon.

The softball battle between Tarheel Independent Conference rivals Lawrence Academy and Ridgecroft School had more than just the usual bragging rights on the line, however, as the teams met in the opening round of the North Carolina Independent School Athletic Association.

Lawrence, who finished second during the regular season and won the TIC tournament, was able to hang on to an early lead and defeat the Lady Rams for the third time this season. The Lady Warriors won 5-3.

“I was not happy with the way we played today,” said second-year Lawrence coach Kristin Nobles. “We made a lot of errors that I am hoping are state tournament jitters that we got out of the way today.

“We got some good hits, but we missed some opportunities as well,” she added. “We can’t make the mistakes at the next level we made today.”

The Lady Warriors scored four runs in the bottom of the second inning to take the early lead. The runs came off a trio of hits and a pair of Ridgecroft errors.

With Kendra Spruill and Casey Belch aboard in the second with just one out, Jennifer White reached third on a pair of throwing errors on the play. That allowed Spruill and Belch to score. Taylor Sexton then laced a single to left, scoring White and giving Lawrence a 3-0 lead.

Sexton moved to second on Debbie Stotesbury’s groundout and then scored when Sarah Capehart singled to right field. Capehart tried to reach second on the throw home, but was tagged out ending the inning with Lawrence up 4-0.

Ridgecroft bounced back in the top of the third inning when Erin Cooke singled to center and moved to second on a groundout. She scored when Emily Cooke ripped a double to center. A groundout and a strikeout ended the inning with Ridgecroft still trailing 4-1.

The Lady Warriors had an opportunity to open the game up in the bottom of the third when they loaded the bases with no one out. A pair of walks and a hit batter put Warriors on all three sacks, but Ridgecroft right-hander Mary Kate Morris stepped up to the challenge, striking out the side while allowing just one run to score on a passed ball. Lawrence led 5-1 after three innings.

The Rams also got a chance to cash in big when Mary Kate Morris singled to center to open the fourth and then White hit a pair of batters to load the bases with Rams. White, like Morris, showed her pitching acumen, however and struck out the side to keep it a four-run contest.

Lawrence got another opportunity in the bottom of the fifth when Kendra Spruill tripled with two outs, but a groundout ended the inning with the score the same.

In the top of the sixth, Lindsay Jacob singled for Ridgecroft with one out, but was left stranded at second after a groundout and a strikeout.

Lawrence went quietly in the bottom of the sixth, leaving the Rams needing four runs before they recorded three outs.

The game seemed to be one that would lack any true drama when the first batter groundout out and the second struck out, but the game wouldn’t be one between the Rams and Warriors without a little drams.

After Emily Cooke drew a walk with two outs, Sara Hackney singled to right-center and then raced all the way to third on a throwing error that also scored Cooke. Tayler Smith then ripped a single to center, scoring Hackney and trimming bringing the tying run to the plate.

Morris ripped a hard shot to second, but Capehart made the play at first to end the game and send the Warriors to Campbell University, the site of the Final Four.

“I’m proud of these girls,” said Ridgecroft coach Larry Smith. “We had one bad inning, which seems to be the case every time we’ve played them. The last time we give up three in the first and never recovered and today it was four in the second.

“This team is still young, though, with no seniors,” he added. “We’ve had an up-and-down year with losing our pitcher for three weeks, but we’ve got everyone coming back. I’m proud of what we accomplished this year.”

The Lady Rams closed the season 8-9 overall.

For Lawrence (17-9), White pitched seven complete allowing just four hits during the contest.

“Jennifer pitched well,” Nobles said. “She got herself out of a jam with the bases loaded that could have been real trouble.

“We’re looking forward to moving on to the Final Four and seeing how things go,” she added.

The Lady Warriors, seeded number three, will meet second seed Kerr-Vance (15-1) who topped Wayne Christian 5-3 on Tuesday. That contest is tomorrow (Friday) at 12 noon in Buies Creek.