North Forsyth looked to carry over the strong performance that won it the Region 6-AAAAAA softball championship into the opening round of the state playoffs Wednesday.
But the Raiders struggled defensively, falling in a two-game sweep to No. 4 seed Mill Creek in the Class 6A state tournament at North. After Mill Creek took the opening game 6-2, five North errors opened the door to a 12-4 loss that ended the Raiders’ stellar season.
"We got hot, really really hot, and we really peaked in the region tournament," North coach Bud Henderson said. "We were really hoping and looking forward to that carrying over into the next part of the season.
"But unfortunately, the opposite happened tonight."
Making their third consecutive state appearance, the Raiders (19-12) pulled within 3-2 after run-scoring singles by Jenna Zirlott and Sydney Turner in the third inning of Game 2. But Mill Creek (20-12-1), which batted last in the second game, took advantage of two North errors in the bottom of the third to score four times, building a 7-2 advantage.
Things fell apart for North in the bottom of the fourth. A pickoff and a strikeout left Mill Creek with two outs and nobody on, and it appeared the Raiders would escape the inning unscathed. But a throwing error on what could have been the third out of the inning opened the floodgates.
A hit batsman with the bases loaded made it 8-2. Mill Creek pitcher Heather Felt belted a three-run triple into the left-field corner, pushing the Raiders’ deficit to 11-2. Another error, the second of the inning and fifth of the game, brought home another run to make it 12-2.
Having to score three times in the top of the fifth to avoid the game ending due to the mercy rule, North rallied. Turner drove in Andrea Coleman with a single to center, her 40th RBI of the season breaking Kayla Martin’s single-season school record of 39 set in 2005.
Zirlott scored on Brittany Smith’s groundout to bring the Raiders within 12-4, but North could not push across another run as its game and season ended.
Turner finished Game 2 with two hits and two RBIs. She allowed seven runs (four earned) on four hits in 2 1/3 innings. Zirlott added two hits.
In the opener, North starter Rachel Mixon held Mill Creek scoreless through three innings. But Mill Creek broke through with three runs in the fourth. North trailed 3-1 entering the sixth, but surrendered one in the sixth and two in the seventh, committing three errors in the Game 1 defeat.
Turner finished with two hits and a RBI in the opener. Katie York drove in North’s other run. Mixon allowed six runs (four earned) in pitching the complete game, walking two and striking out two.
The Raiders, who beat Cherokee in last season’s state opener, lose four seniors: Mixon, Smith, York and Savannah Chapman. Henderson thanked the quartet for the leadership they provided through their years in the program.
"It will be hard to fill their shoes," Henderson said. "We’ve been very fortunate the past four years to have them."
North brings back a strong experienced core next season, a group that experienced winning a region championship and put together an excellent season despite a disappointing end Wednesday.
"I’m just proud of the region championship," Henderson said.
"I’m proud the girls got to experience that. I hope they made some life-long memories, and we’ll try to put a good group on the field next season."