DOBSON — Without a doubt, Surry Central’s softball team has come a long way since last year.
The next Lady Eagle victory of the 2016 season will double the team’s win total from a year ago. The team remains in the hunt for a state playoff berth more than halfway through the season, and with only four seniors on the roster, the future looks even better.
But, as Friday night’s game with defending West Regional champion Forbush showed, the last step toward becoming one of the area’s better teams may be as much mental as it is physical.
No one really expected Surry Central (9-8, 2-3 Western Piedmont Athletic Conference) to beat the powerhouse Lady Falcons. Forbush is the state’s third-ranked 2A team, according to MaxPreps.com, and its only loss of the season came at the hands of nationally-ranked 4A West Forsyth. Still, there was hope that the Lady Eagles might be much more competitive than the 10-0 loss they suffered indicates.
Central allowed itself to be rattled by some early success for the hard-hitting Forbush (12-1, 4-0) squad, and the Lady Eagles’ mistakes had as much to do with the Lady Falcons leading 7-0 after two innings as anything else. Forbush added three fully earned runs on a three-run jack by Marissa Lineberry over the center-field fence in the fifth inning, but Surry Central head coach Whitney Joyner felt that shouldn’t have doomed her team to a mercy-rule defeat.
“A lot of this was definitely psychological,” said Joyner. “They got some hits on balls that we thought we should have gotten, and we were stepping into the box angry and upset about not getting to a ball. It was carrying with us all game long.”
The game started off well for the Lady Eagles. Starting pitcher Belle Brindle easily retired the first two Forbush batters on groundouts. The problems started when she hit Taylor Wooten with a pitch with two out. This seemed to cause both her and the Central defense to become unglued, and Forbush’s next four hitters reached via a single, a walk, an error and another hit batsman. Wooten, Logan Wood and Sydney Miller all scored for the Lady Falcons, and Brindle never got the third out, as Joyner had to summon Ema Coe to the mound to get her team out of the inning.
Forbush sent 10 batters to the plate in the second, where a couple of errors and some balls that were generously scored as hits led to four more runs for the Lady Falcons. Allison Mitchell, Kelsey Swaim and Miller all singled and scored in the inning, while Wood worked a walk and scored. For the second straight inning, Joyner had to change pitchers, this time replacing Coe with Jenna Moran. Moran pitched the rest of the game, while her teammates settled down and actually made some strong defensive plays behind her.
If the Lady Eagles had been able to get something going at the plate, it still could have been different.
“We held our own there for a little bit,” said Joyner. “If we hadn’t let their scoring affect us when we come in to hit, we could have done something. Maybe they scored a run off us, or we made an error, and we were bringing it with us when we went to hit. We’ve got to learn to let that go when we go to hit.”
When Surry Central did make hard contact on a ball, the Lady Falcons were usually on the spot with exceptionally strong defense, however. Those in attendance got a taste of what was to come in the very first inning. Katlin Anthony led off the game for Central by singling off Miller. It appeared as if the Lady Eagles might have something going when Allie Hammond lashed out a line drive on Miller’s first pitch to her, but the pitcher managed to get in position to snag the ball for the out. Meanwhile, Hammond had been sure the line drive was going to produce a hit, and she’d left first base. Miller was able to double her up and then get the third out to end the inning.
The only other hit for Central was a single into left field by Hope Hinson in the fourth. Meanwhile, Hammond wasn’t the only Lady Eagle to be robbed of a hit because a Forbush defender snagged a hard-hit liner. Claire Via, Ema Coe and Taylor Jones all suffered the same fate before the night was out. The Central hitters put the ball in play consistently, striking out just four times, but too often, the coach felt her players didn’t have the right focus at the plate.
Forbush scored its last three runs of the game in the top of the fifth. Wooten led off with a single, and Miller singled with one out. Moran retired the next hitter for the second out, but then Lineberry homered to make it 10-0.
The Lady Eagles return to action on Tuesday night at home against West Stokes.
Reach John via Twitter at @johncate73.