By the end of North Forsyth’s Tuesday
night softball matchup with Mill Creek, there was barely a shred of pure white left on
Ashleigh Grace’s uniform.
Her entire body was covered with dirt, and for good reason: She scored four times against the Hawks, leading all of her teammates in that category.
But she wasn’t the only one that was flying and diving around the basepaths. While Mill Creek led early and took two leads in the first and second innings, North’s powerful offense was more than enough for the Raiders to rally back and overtake the Hawks, and ultimately, their bats secured a 12-4 walk-off win in five innings.
Blowouts can sometimes be common in early-season softball schedules, with teams facing non-region squads that can be subpar at times. Mill Creek was not one of those teams: The Hawks made it to the state tournament in Columbus last year and still boast some good players, including one of the state’s best leadoff hitters in Dallis Goodnight.
But for North, none of that mattered, and although the Raiders started their season 3-0 before Tuesday, their game against the Hawks may have been their most complete effort so far.
“That was our first game playing together,” Grace said. “Now (we've) just really come together and made it work. It's just getting out all the jitters and just letting natural talent take over.”
Containing the fleet-footed Goodnight didn’t start well, with an error allowing her to get on in the first. Before the Raiders knew it, she was on third, and a few plays later, she and teammate Kat Maijala scored to give Mill Creek a 2-0 lead.
Each time the Hawks grabbed a lead, though, the Raiders’ response wasn’t far behind. In the bottom half of the first, a Hailey Mize double down the first base line tied it 2-2, and when the Hawks went up 3-2 in the second, North’s McKayla Cothran singled in Grace to knot it up again.
“We just kept thinking, ‘We have seven innings. We're fine, just keep calm,’ Mallorie Black said. “We keep cheering in the dugout (and) keep having fun. We don’t worry about the score -- we worry about getting base hits.”
And that’s something the Raiders did quite well for the rest of the game, ultimately finishing with 12. North took its first lead in the third on a fielder’s choice that scored Abby Martin, and in the fourth, the Raiders batted around, with Grace, Black, Sarah Lowe and Anslee Anderson combining for five RBIs in the frame. A two-RBI Black triple and an RBI groundout from Mize ended the game early in the bottom of the fifth.
“Our girls work hard,” North head coach Jim Cahill said. “They fight every at bat. They grind at-bats out. We had some great two strike hits tonight. We got some big two-out hits tonight. Even with two strikes, they put the ball in play, making them make some mistakes. That's big, too.”
After a shaky first two innings, Lowe settled in as North’s starting pitcher, eventually earning the win. She struck out one and allowed two earned runs. While Mize is the team’s No. 1 arm, Lowe is figuring to have a bigger role this season.
“Sarah was amazing,” Black said. “That team is really good at hitting. We played them last year and they beat us like we just beat them. She kept the ball, made them pop up and we played awesome defense.”
If Tuesday night’s performance against a good team is any indication, North has the potential to have a very strong year. The Raiders hope their formula is enough to get them to their goal of reaching Columbus.
“That would absolutely mean the world to all of us,” Grace said. “I think this year's probably going to be one of our best years.”