The Carolina Forest softball team entered the postseason with high hopes.
The players, especially the ones who were a part of last year’s Lower State championship team, want to get the Class AAAA finals again. They have the talent to be in that mix.
On Thursday, they made the next step.
The top-seed Panthers held up to expectations by making quick work of fourth-seeded North Augusta, evening winning 10-0 in a run-rule shortened six innings.
Never miss a local story.
“Especially when we play a four seed, we need to go out and show that we’re higher-ranked and do the job we need to do,” center fielder Sara Sweatt said. “We had some ups and downs, but I think we definitely did what we needed to do.”
From the start, it was evident this game was going to be all Carolina Forest. The Panthers scored five first-inning runs, including two on a wild pitch from North Augusta pitcher Meghan Whitfield.
They batted around that inning, added another run in the third and then scored four in the bottom of the sixth to end it. During that same stretch, sophomore pitcher Emily Merriam was effective, giving up only four Yellow Jacket hits, three of which came in the fourth inning.
That inning amounted to North Augusta’s only true threat to score, but Merriam got a strike out and two ground balls to end it.
“It’s a good start for us,” first-year coach Meagen Johnson said. “It’s a start, but we still want to bring more intensity, bring more enthusiasm, just bring more everything until the end.”
About the only knock on the Panthers Thursday was a harmless error from senior shortstop and Alabama signee Marisa Runyon in the second inning.
Essentially, Carolina Forest – as it has showed all season – is simply too tough for the majority of teams it has faced. The next game, though, will likely be more of a test. Bluffton was originally declared the Region VIII-AAAA champion before a late protest in a game between two other schools dropped the Bobcats to second place.
It moved Bluffton into the District VI playoff bracket with the Panthers, and after defeating Stratford Thursday, Bluffton will be heading to Carolina Forest Saturday night.
And much like it did a year ago, the Panthers’ fan base has already started to show signs of some impressive crowds. Parents, students and members of others sports were present against North Augusta.
It’s something the softball team has taken notice of.
“That pressure is always there,” Sweatt said. “But we have to put that behind us and get to our goal. We don’t need to be looking at those stands and who is out there. We need to play our game and do what we know.”
At least for the first game of the state playoffs, that proved yet again to be winning.
North Augusta – 000 000 – 0,4,3
Carolina Forest – 501 004 – 10,10,1
W – Emily Merriam. L – Meghan Whitfield. Top hitters – North Augusta: Jacquie Hill 1-2; Kyleigh Busbee 1-3; Maddie Shiver 1-2. Carolina Forest: Sara Sweatt 2-3, 2B, RBI, 2 Runs; Monica Mullis 1-2, 2 BB, RBI, 2 Runs; Cheyenne MacKenna 2-3, RBI, Run.
Records: North Augusta 13-11; Carolina Forest 23-2