Rockingham junior pitcher Taylor Smith’s stellar performance on the mound, combined with a great all-around night hitting the ball by the entire Lady Cougars team, overpowered Kings Mountain by a dominant 10-1 margin in the first round of the 3A NCHSAA state softball playoffs on Tuesday night.
Up 2-1 heading into the fourth, it looked like the game would go down to the wire, but a controversial call by an official sparked a change.
“It was a 2-1 ball game and there was a bad call in the third or fourth inning which intensified things. Sometimes officials make bad calls, we know that, but that seemed to spark my girls with the bats. They came out after that and went lights-out hitting the ball,” Rockingham head coach Scott Isley said.
The Lady Cougars scored three runs in the fourth, two more in the fifth and then plated three more in the seventh to put the game on ice.
Smith pitched a complete seven innings, gave up just one hit and one walk. She led the way on offense as well with three hits and a pair of RBIs.
Brooke Buchanan had two hits and three RBIs while Claire Boaz added another hit and plated a pair of runs. Madison Courts and Amari Broughton each had a hit and RBI, while Brooke Hyler added two hits and Hannah French contributed another.
“We fed off of Taylor. She threw an excellent game. She only gave up one hit and struck out I think 10 batters, something like that. She was outstanding, and when she is pitching like that it makes everyone play better,” Isley said.
After riding a bit of a rocky road towards the end of March and into the first part of April, Rockingham began to hit their collective stride as they won five-straight before losing 5-2 to Western Alamance in the regular season finale on April 30.
Expectations were sky high for Rockingham entering the season after finishing second in 2018 and losing just one player, and many thought the Lady Cougars would be the top contender for the Mid-State 3A regular season title.
But several unforeseen circumstances unfolded that derailed that goal.
It didn’t help the Lady Cougars cause, that this season, the powerhouse league, was even stronger than normal as they sent seven of the eight teams in the conference to the NCHSAA state playoffs.
“We lost a bunch of games that we should have won. The weather played a factor on everyone this year. I don’t think I’ve seen one quite like it. One day it would be 70 degrees and the next it would be 27 – what do you do? But everybody had to deal with it. We are banged up right now. We lost Hope (Smith) for the season. She only got to play in 11 games out of all that we’ve played and that’s a big factor losing someone like her,” the coach said.
Smith injured her hand sliding into a base earlier this season and had to have surgery. The sophomore short stop could do a little bit of everything on offense and defense and she has most certainly been missed, but Rockingham has proved to be resilient and Isley likes his team’s chances in the second round against No. 3 seed West Rowan (20-3) on Friday.
“They are a good team and have a good pitcher. We’ve just got to go out there with our bats loaded and if we can hit her, we will be okay. Our defense, I don’t have a problem with. I think it is one of the best around. We’ve just got to take care of the offensive part,” Isley said.
The winner of the second round game will advance to take on either No. 1 Marvin Ridge or No. 16 A.C. Reynolds on May 14 in the third round.