Dogs bow out in second round

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HURDLE MILLS —The Roxboro Community School softball team ran into a dominant pitcher and had the best season in school history come an abrupt, gut-wrenching end.

North Stanly pitcher Merris Talbert stymied the Bulldogs’ potent offense and carried her team to a 2-1 victory in the second-round of the 1A state playoffs Friday at Bushy Fork Ballpark.

The Comets (15-6) advanced to the third-round and faced 10th-seed Murphy (16-2) Tuesday. RCS (18-2), the champion from the North Central Athletic Conference and No. 2 seed had its season end in its first playoff game for the second consecutive season.

“We had a great season, and I think this is the best team I’ve seen come through here,” RCS coach Anthony Lee said. “I think everyone would agree with that. We’ve had some good girls come through here, but this is by far the best team we’ve had.”

The Bulldogs entered Friday’s playoffs game on an eight-game winning streak, scoring double-digit runs in each victory, but were shut down by Talbert.

Talbert, with an earned run average under one and only six walks on the season, relied on her riseball to dominant the Bulldog hitters. She took a no-hitter into the sixth, striking out all but two of the batter she faced until that point.

The allowed just two hits for the game and struck out 18, including eight of the first nine batters she faced, many on riseball high out of the strike zone.

“If we could have just gotten them to lay off the riseball,” Lee said. “They were getting better in the last two innings, but it’s just hard to lay off. I still can’t believe we didn’t get her. We’re scoring 10-plus runs in every ballgame, but that’s the way it goes. If I would have had to guess, I would have thought my offense would have pulled us through.”

The Bulldogs finally got to Talbert in the sixth inning, and did it all with two outs.

Kelcey Mangum broke up the no-hit bid with an infield single to the left side and moved into scoring position on a basehit by Maci Clark.

RCS cut the lead in half on an RBI single to right by Karsin Lee and loaded the bases when cleanup hitter Zoe Russell was hit in the elbow with a full-count inside fastball.

Talbert cleaned up her own mess when she struck out Madison Adams on three straight pitches to end the threat. The Comets’ junior gave up a two-out walk in the seventh and struck out ninth-place hitter Jailyn Mattos to seal the win.

Talbert is no stranger to postseason success. Two years ago, she pitched the Comets to a 1A state championship, including a nine-strikeout performance in the deciding game of the finals in a 4-2 extra-inning win against Whiteville.

“It’s one of the best pitches in fastpitch softball because it just looks so good,” Lee said. “They started laying off in the last two innings and you saw what happens. We scored a run, got some base runners. If Zoe wouldn’t have gotten hit, what would have happened? We were one swing away from winning that ballgame.”

All of the Comets’ offense came in the first inning.

Payton Landis and Mimi Selke led off the game with singles and moved into scoring position on a fastball. North Stanly took an early lead when designated hitter Devyn Fury’s soft liner fell just behind second base, scoring Landis.

With the bases loaded, The Comets’ added to their lead on a sacrifice fly to center by Reagan Speight, but it could have been worse for the Bulldogs.

RCS centerfielder Karter Hawkins saved at least two runs with a diving grab on Speight’s liiner to right-center gap.

The Comets did not get another hit for the final six innings and managed just two more baserunners.

Karsin Lee was saddled with the loss for the Bulldogs after surrendering just three hits in four innings of work, while striking out five.

Adams tossed three innings of hitless relief with five strikeouts.

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