The Carolina Forest softball team is poised to make another big postseason run.
But it won’t come easy. After being Lower-State champions last year, the bar is set pretty high.
So getting through the district VI playoffs in the winner’s bracket is crucial for the Panthers, and they will move on as winners following a 4-3 victory over Bluffton on Saturday.
“Obviously it feels good because it’s important to stay in the winner’s bracket in the playoffs because you definitely have an advantage,” Carolina Forest coach Meagen Johnson said. “Like I told the girls, ‘be excited about the win, but there’s a lot of things we need to do better in the next game.’ Just the things that we’ve worked on and we’re capable of doing better. But we didn’t show up all the way today so considering that and we come away with a close win that’s good but we’re capable of more.”
Never miss a local story.
Had the Panthers lost Saturday, they would’ve had to win one more at home and win two on the road.
“This one – for us to do what we want to do – this game right here was key,” Johnson said. “This was probably one of the most important games for us. We’re definitely in the driver’s seat right now so it’s up to us to finish it.”
Cheyenne MacKenna had a two-RBI double in the fourth to give the Panthers’ a 3-2 lead. And that was all starter Emily Merriam needed as she picked up her 19th win of the season.
“It was huge. Obviously it comes down to a one-run ballgam, like every runner on base could make the difference in the game. That’s what I tried to tell these girls throughout the year, ‘we don’t want to leave people on base because every runner can make a difference.’ So it was huge for her to step up.”
Merriam tossed seven innings, scattering four hits while striking out five.
On the offensive side, Marisa Runyon went 2-for-3 with two doubles and two RBIs and Natalie Hardwick was 2-for-3 with a run scored.
“Honestly they have one of the best attitudes as a team that I’ve ever worked with and they all want to win,” Johnson said of her sqaud. “They all know that it takes work and they can always do things to get better to win. So there’s that willingness to work hard, but at the same time it’s just that winning attitude. Do what it takes to win.
“Also, this group has a ton of chemistry and they’ve been playing together for quite some time so that helps us a lot.”
Carolina Forest won’t need much help getting through the playoffs, with the talent they have. But they all have enough heart to complete their objectives.
“Absolutely,” Johnson said when asked if she sees her team making another big postseason run. “From day one that was our goal. They want it too, and that’s what matters.”
The Panthers will take on the winner of Bluffton-Stratford on Wednesday as they try to take the next step towards their high goals.
“It really doesn’t matter. Either one,” Johnson said. “We’ve faced Bluffton so we know more about them so that would give us an advantage there. But then too, they know our weaknesses and Stratford doesn’t so that would give them an advantag. Either way, we just want to come and play and win Wednesday.”
• W–Emily Merriam (19-2). L–Courtney Smith. Top hitters – Bluffton: Morrell 2-3, HR, 2 RBIs; Kirby 2-3. CF: Marisa Runyon 2-3, 2 2B, 2 RBIs; Cheyenne MacKenna 2-3, 2 RBIs; Natalie Hardiwck 2-3, R.
Records – Bluffton 15-3, Carolina Forest 24-2.