For four innings Thursday night, the Lambert Lady Longhorns softball team appeared flummoxed by North Forsyth’s big right-handed pitcher, Sara King. They were hitless for the first two innings and scoreless in all four. They tried big swings. They tried surprise bunts. Nothing.
But it turns out Lambert wasn’t flummoxed, just biding its time. They’d seen plenty of King before in a loss to the Lady Raiders earlier this season. That night the Morehead State commitment pounded the outside corner against the Lady Longhorns. But Thursday night was Lambert’s night, Senior Night, with the jersey numbers of the team’s four seniors painted on the centerfield grass and a chance to clinch second place in Region 6-AAAAAA and play at home in the first round of the state playoffs.
With a staccato of opposite field line drives and a little help from North, the Lady Longhorns used a fifth-inning out-burst to secure a 3-1 victory at home. The Lady Raiders settled for the third seed after West Forsyth’s 3-2 loss to Chattahoochee.
“With our team and our lineup, we feel pretty comfortable,” Lambert head coach Brooks Youngblood said. “You just have to be patient. Just wait it out, make some adjustments and it’s gonna happen. It just took a couple times through the lineup, that third time through the lineup.”
Lambert (15-10) trailed 1-0 going into the bottom of the fifth inning. The time to put their intel on King to use was now. So Kaitlin Holloway led off with a line drive single into right field. Maddie Butz followed with another single into right. Then King’s counterpart on the mound, Kassidy Krupit, drove the first pitch she saw into the right field corner for an RBI double to tie the game 1-1.
Three batters. Three opposite field hits. Tie game.
“We know we can hit,” said Butz, a senior, “and we know we can play well. We knew the bats were coming.”
But North did the rest in that pivotal fifth inning. Butz eventually scored on a wild pitch by King. Lambert slugger Marissa Guimbarda followed Krupit with a walk and later scored on an infield error.
“It was a matter of time before one team or the other had an inning like that,” North head coach Bud Henderson said. “We’re both on edge for what we’re playing for, the No. 2 seed. I didn’t expect the one-run lead to last. It was just a matter of time. Unfortunately it happened to us.”
That was all the cushion Krupit needed. The Lambert sophomore continued her strong performance in the season’s second half after not pitching early on because of tendinitis in her throwing elbow, allowing just the one run on five hits and one walk while striking two in seven complete innings.
“She just gets the job done,” Youngblood said. “It’s just impressive.”
To be sure, North tested Krupit. Five out of seven innings she allowed North’s lead-off batter to reach base, and all five times the batter advanced into scoring position. The Lady Raiders managed their only run in the first inning. Haley Simpson began the game with a double, moved to third on a sacrifice bunt by Madelyn Oliver and scored on a ground out by Caracciolo.
Otherwise, Krupit navigated her most tenuous moments. Butz gunned down Ashley Barton at home from center field trying to score from second to end the top of the third. Krupit left runners stranded at first and third in the fifth, left Caracciolo stranded at third after a lead-off double to end the sixth, left Ansley Payne’s courtesy runner on second after Payne’s lead-off single to end the game.
“They put a lot of pressure on us, and that’s the name of the game,” Henderson said. “We did that tonight and failed to execute.”
As North coaches and players collected softly in right field, Lambert celebrated its night. The team posed for photos with a local girls youth softball team. Butz and seniors Shelby Dean, Katlin Holloway and Zoe Miller took pictures in front of their spray-painted numbers in center field with family and friends, assured that it wouldn’t be the last time they’d all be together on that field again.
“We want to keep playing here,” Butz said. “As seniors, we didn’t want this to be our last game at home.”