GRAHAM — The Person High School softball season came to a heartbreaking, head-scratching end in a 3-2 loss to perennial power Southern Alamance in the second round of the 3A playoffs Friday in Graham.
The fifth-seeded Patriots (23-5) advanced to play Topsail (20-3) in Tuesday’s third-round game, while the Rockets were left wondering what might have been.
The upset-minded Rockets took a 2-1 lead into the sixth inning behind an outstanding pitching performance from Lillie Davis. The freshman tossed a complete-game shutout to lead Person to a 1-0 victory at West Brunswick and was giving the Patriots fits, especially with her curveball.
In the sixth inning, Davis tossed several curveballs that broke in the strike zone but were ruled illegal. According to Person coach Michael Ferrell, the home plate umpire told him that the pitches were illegal because “(Davis’s pitching) hand was separating from her hip”.
This was only occurring on Davis’s curveball, easily her most dominant pitch.
The Patriots pounced, coming through with a couple of big hits in the sixth, including a game-tying single by Sid Martin.
Southern Alamance capped off the win on a walkoff homer by Abi Stuart, on the first pitch of the seventh inning --- a fastball. According to Ferrell, neither umpire said anything about Davis’s curveball being illegal until the sixth inning and it was never called throughout the season.
For the game, Davis allowed six hits while striking out 11.
“I think it more or less upset her because it’s never been called,” Davis said. “She’s been throwing that curveball for two and a half years and for them to tell her that it was an illegal pitch, it just disrupts everything that she’s been doing. She still finished the inning, but it did change how I called pitches. Do we keep going back to (the curveball) and hope that he doesn’t call it? It was disappoint for that to happen at that moment because the game was so close and it ultimately let them tie the game and put them in position to win it in the seventh.”
Person’s Kailey Mangum delivered a pair of RBI singles in the first and third innings. Mariah McCowan was 2-for-2, while Gabby Jones and Taylor Sullivan each had hits.
The Rockets ended the season 11-11, with only one senior, second baseman Jordan Perkins, and seven underclassmen in the starting nine. Starting catcher Payten Pearsall is also expected to be back after a season-ending injury. Ferrell expects this to the launching off point for his young team.
“One senior starting on the field and to be in this position speaks to where we’re going to be in the future,” Ferrell said. “ It’s not going to be easy. When we were breaking up at the end, I told them that we have a decision to make. Until next fall when we start workouts, we’ve got to ask ourselves how much does this matter. What are we going to do to get better. There’s only so much I can do in the summer. I can keep in contact, but we don’t do a summer league for softball. This was an eye opener as to how good we could be. It’s up to them to take it upon themselves to get better.”