Chris Stiles | The Robesonian
Fuquay-Varina’s Kendall Smith (2) is called safe after stealing second base after Purnell Swett’s Nyla Mitchell’s dive in an attempted tag during Friday’s third-round playoff game in Pembroke.
PEMBROKE — Even on an afternoon in which both pitchers were simply fantastic, the truth that only one team can win remained as Purnell Swett hosted Fuquay-Varina on Friday.
It was an unfortunate truth for the Rams and pitcher Summer Bullard, as a single run pushed across by the Bengals in the top of the sixth was enough for a 1-0 win as Fuquay-Varina advanced to next week’s 4A East Regional final.
Michele Tarpey took a perfect game into the sixth and a no-hitter into the seventh for the Bengals (13-3), striking out nine in the shutout.
“We didn’t adjust, and that’s one thing I’ve been fussing about all year is we’ve got to adjust,” Purnell Swett coach William Deese said. “The wind’s blowing in 100 miles an hour from the outfield, and we’re laying back on the ball trying to hit it a mile. The one thing I argued with them about a little bit during the course of the game was we’ve got to get on top of the ball a little bit and hit ground balls, and we didn’t do that. She’s a great pitcher, she did her job; we just didn’t get the breaks when we needed it.”
Tarpey retired the first 16 Rams hitters she faced, with Bella Finelli drawing a walk in the sixth to end the perfect game bid; she ultimately was thrown out at second base to end the inning.
Chandra Locklear broke up the no-hit bid with a leadoff single in the seventh. Pinch-runner Hailey Goins was sacrificed to second, but the final two Rams batters struck out to end the game.
Bullard pitched a four-hitter with four walks and 15 strikeouts for Purnell Swett (12-3); this came after her nine-inning performance in Thursday night’s 2-1 second-round win over Apex Friendship. Bullard struck out 31 batters in a 23-hour span over the two games.
“She has put them on their back and she has carried them,” Deese said. “I’ve been in this for a long time and I’ve never seen two back-to-back games by an individual like that in my career. At the beginning of the game she was tired, and I asked her, ‘hey, what you got for me,’ and she said ‘I can finish the game for you.’ I like that and I think the world of her.”
The game’s lone run came with some controversy. After Kaylee Furr reached with a one-out double in the sixth, Sarah Mosely singled; courtesy-runner Megan Ware scored on the play, though Purnell Swett contended that she was tagged out at the plate by catcher Chloe Locklear.
“As the ball came through it was up the line, and my catcher turned and swiped and made the tag,” Deese said. “My catcher’s not normally going to say anything, and she’s not going to say something if she doesn’t feel it’s true, and she said she got her in the back. I was going on that, and I questioned, but to be honest with you I couldn’t tell — but I was going on what my catcher said; my catcher said she tagged her, and that’s a call he has to make, and he was right there on top of it.”
Bullard stranded Mosley and Mariah Stephens, who walked, in that inning, and also left two runners on base in the second and single runners in the third, fourth and fifth innings. Bullard’s last seven outs, including the last four batters she faced, came on strikeouts.
Fuquay-Varina’s victory was the 400th win for coach Deborah Clarke.
The season-ending loss was the final game for Purnell Swett seniors Marijo Wilkes, Torrie Butler, Kaitlyn Locklear, Kara Deese and Goins.
“Those five seniors have been with me, even through rec ball, 12-, 13 years old,” William Deese said. “They have been part of the groundwork that we’ve laid down for the success of our program. They’re going to be sorely missed, and we just hope as they move forward into their next endeavor they’ll do well.”
Chris Stiles can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at [email protected] You can follow him on Twitter at @StilesOnSports.