LAURINBURG — Inconsistency at inopportune times has been a glaring weakness for Scotland this season, but as the Scots showed again Thursday night in their non-conference matchup with visiting Lee County, they showcase some of their best softball when their backs are against the wall.
Patrick Williams’ squad produced very little offense through the first six innings against Yellow Jackets pitcher Whitney Sanford, but the Scots broke through with a pair of runs in the final frame to notch a 2-1 come-from-behind victory.
With runners on the corners and facing two outs, Katie Lighthall smacked a game-tying single to plate Kandon Lagues, then Kwadeja Quick followed with the winning hit, drilling a sharp ground ball down the third-base line that the Lee County infielder had trouble reeling in. She bobbled the ball, which allowed Quick enough time to reach first base safely as Kelsey Smith slid home for the game’s final run.
“We were just trying to make a play, make something happen,” said Williams after the win. “Just believing that putting the ball in play, they got to make plays which they had been making all night.”
Scotland (8-7) and Lee County flashed pitching and defensive prowess for much of the evening — the Scots only recorded three hits all game while the Yellow Jackets tallied four.
Lee County (15-3) broke through with its lone run in the top of the third inning when Tessa Wilson hit a single off starting pitcher Cameron Sharpe to bring Zizi Hammond home.
Meanwhile on the mound, Sanford gave up a mere one hit and two walks through the first six innings. But Scotland finally got to the right-handed junior in the bottom of the seventh — Sharpe jumpstarted the offense with a one-out double, then after Sarah McCall struck out, Smith took a walk on five pitches to put runners on the corners. While McCall was at the dish, Sanford tossed a wild pitch that allowed Lagues, a pinch runner, to advance to third.
That set the stage for Lighthall and Quick, who followed with back-to-back clutch plays to help snap the Scots’ two-game losing skid.
The result was met with relief by some of the Scots players, who thus far have experienced a roller-coaster season that has had extreme highs paired with disappointing lows.
Look no further than the past few results for an indication of Scotland’s topsy-turvy 2016 campaign — the Scots defeated first-place Richmond Senior in a 6-4 victory on April 12, then followed with losses to Purnell Swett and Pinecrest that eliminated then from contending for the Southeastern Conference regular-season title. The Scots led by four runs in both of those contests before faltering late.
While Thursday’s win won’t count towards the conference standings, it could serve as the spark Scotland needs for a late-season run heading into the SEC tournament.
“Last year, we won the conference tournament. The year before, we got a conference tournament,” Williams said of his program’s recent success in the tourney. “The conference tournament has been good for us, so I told the ladies there’s still some light at the end of the tunnel and the window of opportunity will present itself, but we have to be ready to take advantage of it and that’s what we’re shooting for.”
Scotland will play for the third time this week when it travels to Raeford to play Hoke, a team that currently holds the all-important third seed in the conference standings. The Scots are two games back of the Bucks with three to play, and if they don’t finish in the SEC’s top three, they will likely have to win the conference tournament to secure a spot in the upcoming North Carolina High School Athletic Association 4A playoffs.
“I know it’s been some frustrating games, but on the same token this is the type of game that we need in order to play a team like Hoke,” Williams said.
Logan Martinez can be reached at 910-506-3170. Follow him on Twitter @L_Martinez13.