SPIVEY'S CORNER — As she held the East Central 2A Conference softball championship trophy Friday, Midway first baseman Emma Clark did her best to describe the scintillating sequence of events that sent her home fans in an uproar just moments before.
A tense, defensive stalemate against visiting league foe East Duplin transitioned into a 10-inning marathon with Clark stepping up to the plate needing just one hit to secure the conference championship.
"It was a weight off my shoulders. I was about to have a heart attack if we had to go back in the field again ... I was so glad when that ball dropped," the senior hitter said after punching the game-winning single into shallow left to cue a 3-2 victory.
"I owed it to my team for working so hard the whole game, and I knew I had to get that ball down to score that last run because I knew they were just as tired as I was."
With the COVID-19 pandemic snipping last season short, Friday was essentially a repeat effort after the Lady Raiders also claimed the outright ECC championship in 2019.
Second-year Midway skipper Susan Clark didn't manage that group, but benefited Friday from the Lady Raiders' veteran leadership that included her daughter.
"Emma had said for the past two innings, 'We got to do it, girls. I can't take this anymore,'" Coach Clark said.
The two teams split the regular season series and finished knotted atop the conference, forcing Friday's winner-take-all tiebreaker.
Coach Clark says the focus throughout the week was on situational hitting and getting quality at-bats, two things that plagued the Midway offense in the early going.
East Duplin (12-2) held a 1-0 lead through the first two innings before Sydney Williams' RBI double brought in Midway's first run in the bottom of the third.
Summer Mercer's lead-off triple in the fourth led to the Lady Panthers' next run as Dessa Houston laced an RBI double that put the visitors back in front, 2-1.
Both defenses settled in behind their respective starters as Lady Raiders pitcher Miranda Holmes and Lady Panthers ace Suzanne Jarman kept things quiet through the next couple of innings.
Midway outfielder, and The University of North Carolina at Pembroke signee, Sydney Williams turned in some of the best snags of the evening, including an over-the-shoulder grab in the fifth and a diving save in the sixth that kept the score at 2-1.
"The outfield for both teams – when you think you got a gapper coming, then wham, Superman comes and digs it out and it kind of deflates you," Coach Clark said.
Holmes, who is signed to Barton College, helped herself at the plate in the bottom of the sixth, driving a two-out RBI single to bring in Lainey Hughes and knot the score at 2.
The senior had a game-high 12 strikeouts, including a big punchout against Jarman to end the top half of the eighth with a runner stranded on second.
Both sides continued to make enough plays to keep the other off the board until Rylie Williams connected on a lead-off single in the 10th. She eventually negotiated her way to third base, setting up Clark's signature moment.
"We've been working really hard this whole season to get this win and it just makes it 10 times better that we got it," Emma Clark said.
Sydney and Rylie Williams led the Lady Raiders with two hits apiece, while the team totaled nine.
Midway finishes the season 12-1 overall, 11-1 in league play, and Emma Clark says getting more production at the plate in early innings is essential to spark a deep postseason run.
"I think our bats are our biggest thing. Our defense is always pretty good, but I think we've got to start from the beginning of the game getting hits so we don't get in a hole like we did tonight," she said.
The Lady Raiders will take the eighth seed during next week's 3A state playoffs and host No. 9 Bartlett Yancey on Monday, May 3.
Donnell Coley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 910-230-2040.