Whether it’s being a leader in the dugout or being a playmaker on the field, Makenna Segal has played a key part in everything South Forsyth’s softball team has accomplished in the past few seasons.
But this year, Segal’s on-field role has been limited, and through no fault of her own. She injured her throwing shoulder early in the year, and as a result, she’s mostly been constrained to hitting, and there has been at least one point where she was absent from the lineup entirely in the thick of the region race.
“I've been struggling so much, knowing that I can't play the field and knowing that I have to produce that much more on offense,” Segal said. “But we have a great team this year and I need to realize that if I step back and just get on base, they'll get me in.”
Even if Segal was discovering that she didn't have to do everything, she still found a massive way to contribute on Thursday, with the War Eagles facing Forsyth Central for a shot at the Region 5-7A title. With South down by a run in the fifth, Segal crushed a pitch off Bulldogs ace Bailey McCachren for a two run go-ahead home run, firing up South’s dugout. Segal pumped her fist as she reached third, grateful that she could make such a critical play for her team.
“I haven't been pitched to a lot, but I'm thankful that they decided to pitch to me tonight, and I feel like I made the most out of my opportunity,” Segal said.
Segal’s shot was ultimately the difference for South, and after Audrey Hui added insurance later in the inning with an RBI double, the War Eagles took down Central 3-2 to clinch a best-of-three matchup with North Forsyth next week for the region title, a rematch of last year’s championship series. South (12-12 overall, 6-4 Region 5-7A) and Central (10-15, 6-4) ended their schedules with identical region records, but with the War Eagles owning the tiebreaker with their win over North on Aug. 22, the Bulldogs will enter the tournament as the region’s No. 3 seed.
“The last time we played (Central), we didn't take care of the ball very well,” South head coach Leanne Brooks said. “We had some errors out in the field that cost us a few runs, so going into this, I stressed that we have to value the ball. We've got to take care of it, because if we don't, this is a team that's going to take advantage of it. They did a great job of coming out here and doing that.”
Much of that defensive improvement came from center fielder Kennedy Ariail, who made multiple highlight plays throughout the game. In the second, she leaped over the wall to rob Central’s Emily Caron of a two-run home run.
“My teammate in left field was telling me 'fence' but I wasn't stopping,” Ariail said. “I was just going to try to jump over it.”
Central didn’t have to wait long to take its first lead, though. In the third, Sydney Moroney singled to bring in Ansley Clark. But after taking that 1-0 advantage, the Bulldogs had trouble bringing runners in, ultimately stranding six of them. McCachren homered to left in the sixth to bring Central to within one right after Segal’s home run, but the Bulldogs couldn’t add more.
“It's a total letdown,” Central head coach Paul Cromie said. “We have to score more runs than two when we get into this time of the year. We got eight hits, but it didn't really seem like we got eight. When you get runners on second and third, you've got to knock them in.”
With South clinging to a one-run lead in the seventh, a diving catch by Ariail gave the War Eagles their second out of the frame, and pitcher Hannah Marchman induced a lineout to close out the win. McCachren struck out eight for Central, walking two.
South has the distinction of being the only Region 5-7A team to beat North this year. The War Eagles couldn’t earn the sweep against the Raiders, but are ready for their third crack at them.
“We're all so excited,” Segal said. “We're the only team to beat them so far, and we want that redemption. I'm so excited to see what we do.”