Surging Blythewood opened the Class 4A state softball playoffs with a businesslike 5-1 win over visiting Nation Ford in a first-round District 4 game on Thursday.
The fifth-ranked Bengals (23-3) rode a strong pitching performance by sophomore Katie Chappell, a three-run double in the first inning by Lori Owns and a sound defensive performance led by shortstop Ansley Gilstrap to its seventh playoff-opening win in eight tries since the program debuted in 2006.
Blythewood hosts either Byrnes or Laurens in a second round game on Friday with the winner advancing to the district championship round on May 1.
The Bengals did the heavy offensive work in the first inning with a four-run burst highlighted by Owens bases-claring double to the gap in left-center field following a run-scoring single by Chappell.
There was nothing overly impressive, but it was a good, clean win, said Blythewood coach Bucky Ware, whose team had won eight in a row and 14 of its last 15 games. Jumping out to the early lead allowed us to ease into the game a little bit more. Nation Ford was tough, not the usual No. 4 seed. Katie had to throw a lot of pitches early, but she battled through it and finished up strong.
Chappell allowed one run on three hits and a walk in the second inning, but escaped a bases-load jam with a strikeout and a ground ball out. Nation Ford had runners on the corners with two outs in the third, but came up empty when catcher Bailey Newman picked off the Falcons runner at third base for the final out.
Chappell was in command the rest of the way, tossing four hitless innings and retiring 12 of the 13 NF batters she faced. She finished with four strikeouts and four walks.
The Bengals defensive star was Gilstrap, who had five assists and also drilled a triple off the top of the fence in left-center field in the sixth and scored an insurance run on a grounder out off the bat of Blair Murphy.