LAURINBURG — Losers of three straight Southeastern Conference games with a home tilt against arch-rival Richmond Senior on tap Thursday night, the Scotland softball team desperately needed a victory if it wanted to keep pace in the conference race.
With their season teetering on the brink, the Scots righted the ship and secured an important win, defeating their nemesis 6-4.
Cameron Sharpe plated the eventual go-ahead runs in the bottom of the fifth inning, ripping a two RBI double to give Scotland a 3-2 lead.
Scotland (7-5, 2-3 SEC) then added a trio of insurance runs in the bottom of the sixth inning to extend its advantage to 6-2. Those runs would prove pivotal as Richmond answered with a pair of scores in the top of the seventh to close the gap to 6-4, but Scotland got out of the inning without allowing further damage to come away with the victory.
“Anybody we face we consider a rival, we have to get wins,” said Scotland coach Patrick Williams, who acknowledged the significance of the outcome.
“We have to get wins to give ourselves a chance in the postseason so that’s all we want to do. I told the girls, I’m concerned about which team will show up — will it be the ‘A’ team or the ‘Z’ team and for the most part, the ‘A’ team showed up (tonight).”
A loss would have dropped Scotland to 1-4 in the SEC, a full four games behind first-place Richmond and two games out of second. Instead, the Scots now trail the Raiders by two games and they are only one back of Hoke, Pinecrest and Lumberton, which all currently sit in second with identical 3-2 records.
It took a couple of innings for the Scots and Raiders to find themselves at the plate as the game remained scoreless until the bottom of the third. Scotland got on the board first after Ashlyn Dial recorded a double, then she stole third and a throwing error during the steal attempt allowed her to reach home plate.
Scots pitcher Katie Lighthall held a potent Richmond offense scoreless through four innings, but the Raiders woke up in the top of the fifth, scoring twice to take the lead.
Kelsey Mabe hit a two-out RBI double to bring Peyton Fann home, then Owen Bowers followed with a double of her own to give the Raiders a 2-1 advantage.
Richmond (11-4, 4-1) had the opportunity to increase its lead, but Lighthall got out of a bases-loaded jam by striking out NaLee Jacobs to end the inning.
In the bottom of the frame Dial opened with a single, then, two batters later, Debra Kyle notched a single as well. Dial advanced to third and Kyle reached second after stealing the base while Sharpe was at the plate.
Then Sharpe, a senior who has missed most of the season with a knee injury, came through with the clutch double to put the Scots back out in front.
“I tell the young ladies to stay patient. At some point in time that window or opportunity will present itself, you just have to be ready to take advantage of it,” Williams said. “And it presented itself and the young ladies were able to do that.”
Scotland kept Richmond off the scoreboard in the top of the sixth, then put the game out of reach in the bottom of the inning.
The Scots placed runners on the corners with one out, prompting Raiders coach Wendy Wallace to substitute Jacobs off the mound and insert Mackenzie Ward in relief.
With Dial at the plate, Ward tossed a wild pitch that allowed Lighthall to score. Dial followed with a groundout, but Macie Gibson stepped up to record an RBI single to plate Cassie Leviner. A Richmond error allowed Gibson to reach second, then Kyle brought Gibson home with a single to make it 6-2 in Scotland’s favor.
“We just have to be able to put ourselves in the position when we’re that close to be able to shut the door and make the outs we need to make,” Wallace said. “They got people on base several times and we were lucky to work ourselves out of it early in the game, I think the biggest difference was we weren’t able to stop the bleeding in the bottom of the sixth.”
Richmond nearly completed an improbable rally in the top of the seventh — Savannah Lampley opened the inning with a bunt, then Bowers drove her in with an RBI triple. Greyson Way followed with a walk and Jacobs plated Way after an RBI groundout.
Bre Baysek singled to put two runners on base, but Scotland forced a groundout and a pop fly to end the contest.
Scotland is back in action today to host Purnell Swett, and Richmond will return home tonight to play Hoke.
Logan Martinez can be reached at 910-506-3170. Follow him on Twitter @L_Martinez13.