PRINCETON, N.C.- The North Duplin Lady Rebels softball team fell 12-2 to the No. 2 seed Princeton Bulldogs in the 1A state playoffs Friday night.
"The score doesn't indicate how close the game was," said Ricky Edwards, coach of the Lady Rebels.
North Duplin battled back from being down 5-0 to reduce the lead to 5-2 in the top of the sixth inning, but things began to spiral as errors cost them their shot at a full comeback.
Carolina 1A conference foes met up for the third time this season in the win-or-go-home matchup. A crowd of cheering fans was packed around the field as the two rivals faced off.
North Duplin had two runners on base in the first inning, but a groundout halted any chance of them striking first. Princeton missed no opportunities putting runners on base with a hit and a fielder's choice.
The Bulldogs were up 2-0 after one full inning, but the Rebels kept them there as they headed into the bottom of the third.
Princeton returned to bat and continued to apply pressure. The Bulldogs were aggressive early in counts and an error in left field allowed a run to score and move the Bulldogs up to 3-0.
Rayanna Koch caught a hard line drive at shortstop and then threw it over to third to get North Duplin out of a bases-loaded, no-outs jam, but the very next Princeton batter sent a hard grounder down the left field line that brought in another run moving the lead to 4-0.
Rebels' Callie Thornton finally retired the side getting a strikeout and pausing the Princeton assault with North Duplin trailing in the top of the fourth. But Princeton added another run in the bottom half of the fifth inning.
North Duplin's Natalie Ramirez reeled in back-to-back flyouts to help her team get out of the inning, but they were still in a 5-0 hole going into the top of the sixth.
Thornton came up and drove Koch in with a triple to give North Duplin their first run of the game. With the game now at 5-1, Hannah Martin stepped up to the plate and drove in Thornton, reducing the Princeton lead to 5-2.
It seemed as if North Duplin had finally begun to pick up the momentum they had been seeking the entire game, but Princeton capitalized on three different errors in the inning, scoring seven runs in the bottom half of the sixth with four coming off a grand slam.
The game ended with a mercy rule, capping the North Duplin season with a 7-7 record. Though they had sought a better ending, Edwards kept his poise and credited the effort of his team saying, "our girls battled really hard. We just missed our opportunities, but it was definitely a lot closer than the score will show."
"A lot of our girls play travel ball and so they're going to keep working and getting better and hopefully, we'll be right back in this spot next year," Edwards said.