Williamston takes No. 2 spot|Northside hit by imperfect storm

Published 8:51 pm Friday, May 15, 2009

Contributing Writer

CHOCOWINITY — A hovering gray sky set an ominous tone for the Northside Panthers softball team as it battled Williamston for the right to carry the No. 2 seed into next week’s NCHSAA 1-A playoff tournament.
While the rain never came, the Panthers were hit by a perfect storm of ineptitude as they struggled at the plate, in the field and on the mound in their 10-0, five inning loss to the Tigers.
Heading into Thursday’s matchup, both teams finished the regular season in second place with a 10-4 record in the Atlantic Conference, forcing a one game showdown between the two squads at neutral host Southside’s softball stadium.
With the win, Williamston (11-4) guaranteed itself the right to start the playoffs at home, and could possibly earn a second home game, while the Panthers’ loss books them a bus ride to an unfamiliar stadium.
“It means a lot to us because now we get a first-round home game,” Tigers coach Damon Hayes said. “That means a lot because now we don’t have to travel two or three hours to face an opponent.”
Hayes’ club struck early, rallying for eight runs in the first inning on the strength of two inside-the-park home runs as well as an error-assisted inside-the-park grand slam.
Jessica Clemmons (1-3, 2 RBIs) blasted a Kelly Miller offering into left-center field for the first round tripper scoring Heather Jackson (1-2, 3 RBIs) to take a 2-0 lead.
Two walks and an error loaded up the bases for Rhondo Manning, who smacked a grounder up the middle which got past the Panthers center fielder. Manning (2-3, 3 RBIs) took full advantage of the miscue and cleared the base paths to put Williamston up 6-0.
In Jackson’s second plate appearance of the inning, she walloped a shot to left field which got past the Northside defense for another Williamston home run and an 8-0 lead.
With a comfortable advantage, Tigers’ hurler Harris Shepherd sailed through the Panthers (10-5) lineup for the shutout as she allowed only two hits while fanning six.
Sheppard, while not overpowering, used her off-speed pitches well and did a nice job attacking the outside portion of the plate.
Shepherd’s counter part Miller, who pitched a fantastic game Wednesday in the team’s 5-4 win over Perquimans, simply didn’t not have command early in the game and it was costly. The Panthers’ freshman pitcher issued seven base on balls in four innings, while striking out six.
Miller also didn’t get much help from her defense, which committed two errors that helped prolong the fatal first inning and easily accounted for four runs. Miller eventually settled down, but it was too late.
“Williamston is a good hitting team,” Northside coach Louise Beirne said. “We had a freshman pitcher and catcher out there. They did a good job. (Miller) kept hanging in there and I praise that. It’s not easy to stand in there and walk a batter and have someone hit a home run off you … Our biggest problem was that we couldn’t get the hits to catch up.”