Sussex Central’s players came out of the gate mashing the softball. That was a good thing for the Golden Knights, because it turned out they would need every single run they could get.
Junior Morgan Smith launched a two-run home run in the top of the first inning and senior Mykala Steele hit a crucial two-run single in the seventh to power the fourth-ranked Golden Knights to a wild 6-5 victory over No. 2-ranked Laurel in a Henlopen Conference softball clash between division leaders on Thursday.
“It’s really big,” said Smith, who went 2 for 3 and scored two runs. “Last year, we got a bad taste in our mouth because [Laurel] beat us in nine innings, 2-1, but this year we came to fight, and that’s what we did.”
Senior Katie Warrington had two hits, including a double and triple, and drove in a run and Steele added a pair of hits with two RBIs for Northern Division-leading Sussex Central (12-1 overall, 9-1 conference). The Golden Knights have won eight games in a row, including three this week.
Steele pitched a complete game for Sussex Central, surrendering nine hits. The right-hander struck out five and walked three.
Southern Division-leading Laurel (12-2, 9-1) scored three runs in the bottom of the seventh to pull to within a run. The Bulldogs had runners on first and second base when Steele got Sara Whaley to pop out to second base, preserving the victory.
“My heart was pumping real hard. It was a good game,” Steele said. “I knew we were going to come out here and it was going to be a battle and it was down to the last inning. We came out and put three runs on the board [in the seventh], and if we hadn’t done that, then they would have probably pulled ahead.”
Sussex Central struck for three runs in both the first and the seventh innings in front of a large crowd at Clifford F. Lee Memorial Park.
Warrington ripped the first pitch of the game from Laurel starter Logan Green to the fence in right field for a triple. She proceeded to score on Tori Short’s bunt down the third-base line.
Smith then came to the plate and blasted her fifth home run of the season to center field to give the Golden Knights a quick 3-0 lead.
“She gave me a ball on my first pitch and then came back at me with a changeup for a strike and then just threw me a meatball and I just hit it,” Smith said. “I was like, ‘Let’s go,’ because they’re our rival, and I just wanted to beat them.”
Green’s younger sister, Regan, then came in the game and held SC scoreless while the Bulldogs chipped away with single runs in the third and fifth innings, getting a run-scoring single by Cailey Isaacs and an RBI hit by Alexis Hudson – who went 3 for 3 – to cut the deficit to 3-2.
“We came out and I don’t think we were hitting our spots pitching, and I made the change, and then I still don’t think we were hitting our spots pitching … but it happens,” Laurel coach Jodi Green said. “[My team] fought back the entire time. They had good attitudes, and I’m tickled with them. It’s probably a good learning experience.”
Sussex Central looked to have put the game away by tacking on three more runs in the seventh for a 6-2 lead.
But even that lead didn’t prove to be safe against Laurel, which entered the contest on a 10-game winning streak.
Laurel struck for a run on an error, Logan Green hit an RBI double and Alyssa Givens hit a run-scoring single as the Bulldogs pulled to within a run before Steele finally escaped the jam.
“With pitching, it was a battle,” Steele said. “I had to come throwing outside and the umpire wouldn’t give me [inside], but I still battled, and my team was great out there. We made some mistakes, but they made up for it.”