Hoggard High School showed great patience through six innings and the big payoff came in the seventh against the host Heritage Huskies on Tuesday afternoon.
The No. 4 Vikings made the 2 hour, 24 minute trip to Wake Forest to take on No. 2 Heritage, and the only thing that rivaled their patience during that bus ride was the fortitude they put on display for majority of the NCHSAA playoff contest.
After six innings of exchanging jabs, Hoggard delivered the knockoff blow late in the game, defeating the Huskies 5-0 to take the first game of the best-of-three 4A Eastern Regional. Game 2 will be played on Thursday in Wilmington.
The Vikings (19-7) spent most of the game feeling out the Huskies. Heritage (19-4) did much of the same. The first 2 1/2 hours of the game was an epic pitching battle between Hoggard’s Jesse Mathis and Huskies senior Georgeanna Barefoot. Heading into the seventh, the two combined for 15 strikeouts and only three hits. Just when it looked like the game was heading into extra innings, the Vikings finally found their groove at the plate, collecting five hits, which all resulted in earned runs, in the seventh.
The out-of-nowhere hitting clinic was started by Allie Royal, who belted a two-run homer to break the scoring drought. It ended four batters later when Amber Small drove in the final run of the game with a double. In between Royal and Small, Hoggard got an RBI triple from Kira Soodek and a RBI from Icess Tresvik.
“We just had to know that we were going to come through,” Royal said. “We didn’t have to lose our hope, just like we got five runs in the seventh inning, we just had to keep our hopes up.”
Royal said it was just a matter of getting used to the pitches, and they finally caught up with what Barefoot was doing. Better late than never for Hoggard, which held an opponent scoreless for the second straight playoff game and ninth time this season.
Barefoot didn’t make life easy for the Vikings most of the evening. The first hit of the game didn’t come until the top of fourth — a double from Sydney Short — but Barefoot and the Heritage defense clamped down the rest of that inning and the game remained scoreless. The Huskies’ first hits came in the bottom of the fifth, when Cydney Johnson and Karlee Harrington started off the inning with consecutive singles. But Mathis closed out the inning with two strikeouts, leaving two runners stranded for Heritage.
It turned out to be the Huskies’ best chance to get on the board, one they didn’t take advantage of. Once Hoggard got it going in the seventh, the hole was too much from Heritage to recover from.
“You can’t ask for a better match up,” Huskies’ coach Jessica Furlough said. “You’re playing in the final four, everyone is good. G (Barefoot) had a great game, I thought it was a great pitching duel against two great teams.”
Mathis only gave up two hits, but could tell from this game that Heritage has more to offer come Thursday.
“You can tell that they are all great hitters,” Mathis said. “I guess just being smart and keeping them off balance (was working) and I had the defense behind me every time.”
The series will shift to Wilmington on Thursday and Furlough knows it’s all or nothing with the season on the line.
“I told the girls they (Hoggard) seen what we can do yet,” Furlough said. “They haven’t seen the type of hitters they we are right now and that wasn’t a great display. I told them to let this fuel their fire for Thursday.”