Around 8 p.m. Friday, North Pike softball had its backs against the wall. The Jaguars trailed Northeast Jones 6-2 in the seventh inning, staring at a 1-0 deficit in a best-of-three playoff series.
All of 20 hours later, North Pike had swept the series, roaring back to win Game 1 in extra innings, 8-7, before cruising past the Tigers 6-1 on the road Saturday.
The four-run rally Friday night included three runs with the Jaguars down to their last out and a game-tying double from seventh-grader Ellyn Williams. The drama wasn’t done — Northeast Jones took the lead on a dramatic play at the plate in the eighth, only for North Pike to walk off in the bottom half.
“We just got out there and tried to stay mentally tough,” Jaguars head coach Sonya Wallace said of the comeback. “We’d had some hard shots go foul, and we just hadn’t been able to really time (the pitcher) up, and then when it really mattered, they went in there and timed her up and got some good hits.”
On Saturday afternoon in Laurel, freshman Ann Elise Duncan held the Tigers to one run on two hits across seven brilliant innings. The Jaguars’ offense, meanwhile, tallied 11 hits and pulled away with three runs in the top of the sixth to secure the series sweep.
North Pike (18-12) will play either Purvis or Bay High School in the third round of the MHSAA Class 4A playoffs. The three-game series begins Friday.
Game 1 — North Pike 8, Northeast Jones 7 (8 innings)
The Jaguars took a 1-0 lead in the first inning on Sydney Williams’ infield bloop single, but fell behind 4-1 in the second. The Tigers loaded the bases with one out against senior lefty Averi Paden, drove home two on a double and scored their ensuing runs on a single and a groundout.
Sarah Lawrence drove in Williams with a single in the fourth, and North Pike loaded the bases following two perfect bunts. But Ahlyana Houston and Gabby Carr couldn’t capitalize, striking out and popping out to end the threat with the Jaguars down 4-2.
Northeast Jones then stretched its lead to 6-2 in the fifth, scoring on a single and an error. That score held until the bottom of the seventh, when Paden drove home Natalie Deer on a double that two-hopped the wall in left center. Williams followed with a single, but it was still 6-3 with two down after Lawrence flew out to left.
Sophomore shortstop Emilie Williams brought the home crowd to life with a single to center, bringing home two runs and advancing to second on the throw. Then came Ellyn Williams, Emilie’s seventh-grade sister, who roasted the first pitch past a diving third baseman for the game-tying double.
“I was just swinging at anything on the first pitch if I liked it,” Ellyn Williams said, “and I hit it.”
Extra innings began with a runner on second base, and it looked like Paden would pitch her way out of trouble when a borderline 1-2 pitch was called a ball. Shakemma Everett later took off for home in between offerings, catching everyone off guard, perhaps even the umpire. She was called safe on a close play, giving the Tigers a 7-6 lead and stirring an uproar from the home fans.
It didn’t matter, though. Duncan, starting on second, moved to third on Houston’s perfect bunt and scored on a wild pitch that placed Houston on third. Carr, the leadoff batter, worked a 3-2 count and laced a liner over the shortstop’s head, joining the celebration after touching second for a walk-off double.
“I saw it hit the bat and I knew it was (a hit), and then as soon as I hit second, I just started crying,” Carr said. “It was tears of joy, and me and my team just got this big win, and I went up there and I handled business for my team.”
Eight of nine Jaguars finished with hits, led by Sydney Williams’ 3 for 3 clip and a pair of knocks each from Paden and Emilie Williams. Paden tossed eight innings in the circle, allowing six runs (three earned) on seven hits while striking out five.
Tigers senior Teanna Thomas went the distance, holding North Pike in check until the late heroics.
Game 2 — North Pike 6, Northeast Jones 1
It was an early morning for the Jaguars, who left Summit at 9 a.m. for a 1:30 p.m. first pitch in Laurel. The game was scoreless for two innings before Alaia Crossley’s two-out single in the third gave North Pike a 1-0 lead. The Jaguars loaded the bases with no outs in the fourth and scored on Carr’s single and Emilie Williams’ steal of home.
Northeast Jones got a run back on a fifth-inning error, but North Pike responded in the top of the sixth. Carr drove in Ellyn Williams with a single, and an error in center field scored Carr and Deer to make it a 6-1 game.
Duncan held the Tigers hitless in the last two frames to seal the sweep. The freshman, making her first playoff start, needed 117 underhand pitches to complete her outing, but surrendered just two hits and one walk while striking out six.
Freshman catcher Sarah Lawrence went 3 for 4 at the plate to lead the offense, while Carr, Deer and Crossley all went 2 for 4.
After waiting until Monday night to learn their second-round opponent, the Jaguars still haven’t found out who’s up next. Purvis defeated Bay High 6-4 on the road in Game 1 on Friday, but the second leg of the series isn’t until Monday night, with a potential deciding game Tuesday.
North Pike will certainly focus on its defense in practice between now and Friday; with three and four errors in this weekend’s games, the Jaguars have now committed at least three miscues in seven straight contests. With third baseman Layne Greer injured, the staff shifted Deer to the hot corner, and they’ll hope she finds her comfort zone at the position soon.
The offense is heating up, closing Friday with five hits in eight at-bats and going 11 for 32 on Saturday. And the pitching has been there all season — Paden’s ERA rose from 1.36 to 1.48 on Friday, and Duncan lowered her clip to 2.23 on Saturday.
North Pike is four wins away from a return trip to the state championship series and six victories from a title. None of those victories will come easily, of course. But the Jaguars showed on Friday night that they won’t go away easily, either.