Red Knights advance to softball regional finals
North defeats rival Fort Myers, 10-6
The Red Knights (25-2) defeated the Green Wave (15-14) for the third time this year with a balanced offense that scored at least one run in each of its turns to bat. North senior and Wofford commit Kendall Wylie earned the win in the circle allowing 6 runs (3 earned) over 5.1 innings, striking out two. Wylie also led the offense going 3-for-5 with a double and team-high three RBI.
“We hit the ball, laid some bunts down, did some things offensively to create a little havoc for them defensively,” said North head coach Jeff Miner. “(Fort Myers) didn’t quit, they kept on coming back and they’re a very good team.”
Defensive efforts were Jekyll and Hyde for both squads on the night, as they combined for 11 errors (six for North). The top half of the first started with a beautiful piece of hitting and an even better defensive play when Clemson commit Julia Knowler went the other way, lining a ball into the left-field corner. North put together a beautiful relay that saw catcher Mia Lane get the tag down on a strong throw from shortstop Abby Hynes.
“That was big,” Miner said. “The relay was phenomenal. One it gets in (Hynes’) hands, I know we’re in pretty good shape. And (Lane) does a great job hanging in there to make the tag and set the momentum for us.”
Wylie collected her first RBI in the top half of the first, scoring Hynes who led off the inning with a triple via grounder to short. Wylie later came home on an Azlynn Gomes sac fly to left, making it 2-0 Red Knights after one.
Fort Myers cut the deficit in half in the top of the second when an Alexa Bent single up the middle brought home a run. The Red Knights go the run back and more in the bottom of the frame, as Wylie ripped the first-pitch she saw up the middle for a two-RBI knock.
“I was just looking for my pitch and trying to swing at first-pitch strikes,” Wylie said.
Fort Myers started the third with three consecutive singles to put Wylie on her heels. She battled back, though, retiring three straight batters and coming out of the inning having given up just one run, getting some solid defensive plays from third baseman Desirae Devine.
The Red Knights added two more in the third and another in the fourth to push its lead to 7-2 heading into the top half of the fifth. Gomes laced a triple of her own to start the third and came around on a Kaliyah Williams double. Williams later scored from third on a successful bunt from Bella Miceli. Gomes again knocked in a run in the fourth with a liner to left that went in-and-out of the fielder’s glove, bringing in Audrie Florenzano.
A North error on the back-end of a double play attempt in the fifth pushed home a run, but the Red Knights plated a run of their own and then some in the bottom half via an error and Lane RBI double.
The more nerve-wracking moments for North came in the top of the sixth as Bent led off the inning coming all the way around on a pair of errors by North. A few batters later, Sage Rodmyre ripped a triple that scored a runner and later came around on a Kate Coakley single, making it 9-6.
North’s defense came up strong to shut down the Green Wave rally, as Gomes made the catch on a soft liner to second and caught the Fort Myers runner at first too far off the bag and fired to the base for a double play.
A Hynes double brought home a run in the bottom of the sixth and Williams, who had relieved Wylie with one out in that sixth inning, steadily handled the Fort Myers offense, allowing no hits and no walks in her 1.2 innings of relief.
“It felt good and I came in confident knowing my defense had my back and that they’d help me get through it,” Williams, a freshman, said.
“I love all of the players on the team and we all build each other up, it’s just a really good environment to be in.”
Over 50.2 innings pitched this season, Williams has a 1.39 ERA. She’s also a big part on the lineup, hitting .408 with 23 RBI in 27 games.
Of Williams, Wylie said, “As a freshman with that big crowd in the stands, it’s really nerve-racking, so I was extremely proud of her, especially getting out of the (sixth) inning.”
Miner added, “She’s got good velocity on her pitches. She’s still working on hitting her spots. And she’s a baller. She wants the ball. She’s hitting the ball, too. And at this level, you need to have a few pitchers. She’s tough. She throws the ball well.”
Wylie, who carries a 1.28 ERA and 18 wins this year, said it’s amazing to reach this point in the season.
“It feels great. Since I was a freshman, we never made it this far…and we lost to (Fort Myers in this game) last year, so we wanted to come out to win this game,” she said. “It means a lot.”
Next, North will travel for the first time in these playoffs, taking on the No. 1 seed in the region, Parrish Community (21-3), Friday night at 7 p.m.
— Connect with Associate Sports Editor CJ Haddad on Twitter: @haddad_cj