CONCORD – The good news for the Western Guilford softball team entering Wednesday’s first-round playoff game was that Central Cabarrus pitcher Riley Tucker wasn’t quite at 100 percent as she continued to recover from a scary injury last week.
The bad news for the Hornets, well, was that even when Tucker’s not quite 100 percent, she’s still pretty doggone good – and quite scary herself.
The Viking junior only worked three innings, but she was dominant – in every capacity – during a 16-0 mercy-rule victory over the Hornets in a Class 3A playoff opener.
Tucker – who was hit hard in the stomach Friday night on a comeback shot to the mound in the SPC tournament championship game against Cox Mill -- struck out six of the 10 Western Guilford batters she faced Wednesday and allowed just one hit. She then complemented that performance by going 2-for-2 at the plate with a home run.
The second-seeded Vikings will now play host to 15th-seeded Waynesville Tuscola on Friday at 6 p.m. Tuscola (15-6) defeated Charlotte Catholic, 4-3, in the first round.
Fourth-year Central Cabarrus coach Charlie Blackwelder was confident going into his first-round matchup with 31st-seeded Western Guilford (8-11) and was pleased to see the Vikings handle their business against a team that tied for third in the Piedmont Triad 3A Conference.
“We did what we were supposed to do,” Blackwelder said. “We hit the ball, we knew it was a game we should win, and the girls took care of business. I’m proud of them for that.”
The Vikings overwhelmed the Guilford County visitors from the outset, with Tucker fanning the first two Hornets and then inducing a groundout to close the top half of the first inning.
From there, it was a blur of runners crossing the plate for Central.
The first instance occurred when Jordan Baker hit a one-out single that brought in Christina Brendle, and then a smoking, infield shot by Emily Baker resulted in an error that scored both Tucker and Jordan Baker.
Five batters into the lineup, it was 3-0, Vikings.
Emily Baker later scored on Summer Buchanan’s single, and then Salma Van Dyke got in on the RBI-athon with a sharply hit groundout that still plated Destiny Thornton -- who had previously singled, stolen second and advanced to third on Buchanan’s hit -- to make it a five-run advantage.
Junior Jenna Endsley made it a six-run first inning when she smacked a single to center that sent in Buchanan.
The Vikings, of course, didn’t need any more runs to advance to the second round, but plenty of insurance would come later, including Tucker’s third-inning blast that made it 11-0.
Her trot around the bases was the last time Tucker would take the field Wednesday evening, as Endsley came on to pitch the fourth and retired the Hornets in order on groundouts.
“(Tucker) was still sore from the previous game from getting hit, so we knew coming in that, if could get a lead, we were going to pull her as soon as we could,” Blackwelder said. “That was big that she didn’t have to throw many pitches.”
Tucker, however, said she didn’t mind being out there while she was nursing her still-sore belly.
“I was feeling good,” she said. “I was trying to take it easy, though. I’ve been really sore the past couple days, but I’ve been taking medicine and icing it a lot. It just hurt a little bit when I hit.”
There were some impressive individual numbers for Central, with nine Vikings collecting hits, including seven batters who had at least two.
Brendle was 3-for-4 with three runs scored, Jordan Baker was 2-for-4 with four RBIs, Emily Baker was 2-for-2 with three RBIs, Buchanan went 2-for-3 with a pair of runs knocked in, Thornton was 2-for-2 with an RBI, and Maranda Benton scored two runs while going 2-for-3.
The onslaught finally ended with one out in the top of the fourth inning, when Jordan Baker hammered a three-run homer. After the bases were cleared, the coaches convened, and the game was stopped.
“You’d rather it be a tougher game, but it is what is,” Blackwelder said. “We know the next round’s going to be tougher, and that’s what I told the girls. I said, ‘Don’t get used to this. Every game is going to be tough from here on out.’”
Western Guilford 000 0 – 0 1 8
Central Cabarrus 624 4 – 16 17 0
Western Guilford hits – Samaya Edmondson
Central Cabarrus hits – Christina Brendle 3, Maranda Benton 2, Riley Tucker 2, Jordan Baker 2, Emily Baker 2, Destiny Thornton 2, Summer Buchanan 2, Jenna Endsley, Salma Van Dyke
Central Cabarrus RBIs – Jordan Baker 4, Emily Baker 3, Tucker 2, Buchanan 2, Thornton, Van Dyke, Endsley
WP: Riley Tucker (3 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 6 K, 0 BB)
LP: Hailey Marra (3 1/3 IP, 16 R, 17 H, 0 K, 1 BB)