Freshmen key Camden softball past Perquimans
By Owen Hassell
Friday, March 17, 2017
CAMDEN — In a rivalry series that showcases plenty of the area’s top junior and senior talent, it was the freshmen who made big contributions on Thursday.
Hailey Bunting struck out eight and Nicole Villardi connected on a bases-clearing double to spark Camden softball’s 9-2 victory against Perquimans.
“We expect a lot out of them, and not just this game but the whole season,” said Lady Bruins coach Charles Nash of his ninth graders.
Perquimans (5-1, 2-1 Coastal 10 Conference), who had averaged 12 runs a contest, struggled against Bunting outside of the third inning.
At the time, the Lady Pirates’ two runs in that frame served as some fight in another battle between the Coastal 10’s best teams, since Camden had jumped out to a 4-0 advantage.
That is until the host team regained composure. After all, the Lady Bruins (7-0, 5-0) average 14 runs of their own.
“When they put a few runs on us, she (Bunting) didn’t get frustrated and stuck right in there and moved right along,” Nash said.
Bunting did not allow a runner on base the rest of the way. As for the offense, Villardi blasted a double in the second to score Cailey Byrum, Jaycie Staples and freshman Hannah Ferebee.
It was part of the Lady Bruins’ strong effort at the bottom of their lineup.
“I’ve got her (Villardi) there, but she’s done a good job,” said Nash of his No. 9 hitter. “A lot of times people say the bottom is weaker, but we really don’t have a weakness. I think she’s about like another leadoff.”
Although in only her first year at the high school level, Villardi has played on various travel teams with Perquimans players and understands what the rivalry means to both communities.
She also understood the opportunity facing her in the second.
“I saw the bases loaded, and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh Nicole you better get a hit,’” Villardi said.
An inning later, she reached base again on a walk and scored along with Morgan Nash off a hit by another freshman in Briana Bratton, and Camden enjoyed a 6-2 lead.
The sixth inning only added to the Lady Bruins’ work at the plate. Kayla Russell and Lauryn Bray got in on an RBI each.
It led to Bunting fighting off a series of pitches from Perquimans starter Kaitlyn Christian before crushing a 3-2 offering deep to center for the game’s final run.
The teams are again leading the way in the conference title race, and most likely an extended postseason trip.
Last season, they split contests in the regular season before the Lady Pirates won the playoff tiebreaker and reached the fourth round of the 1A state playoffs.
“I think we were a little overexcited for this game,” Perquimans coach Ricky Stallings said. “They wanted it too bad. We made the plays we needed to make, but they hit the ball better. Today they were the better team and that’s what it was. Hopefully next time we come out and hit the ball like we’re suppose to.”
The next meeting is April 25 in Hertford, and Charles Nash knows it’ll be tough to get the season sweep. Stallings has seen enough to know it will be a close matchup.
“Every time we play them, we’ve been rivals,” Villardi said. “I just like playing them. It’s my favorite.”
Perquimans 4, Camden 2: When the Bruins were in prime position to rally, the Pirates’ defense made a clutch stop.
With one out in the sixth inning and Camden runners at the corners, Perquimans’ Wes Phthisic dove to catch a shot by leadoff batter Brett Walsh and tag out a runner for a double play.
“A heck of a play,” admitted Bruins coach Doug Leary. “Definitely they will not give up games because of anything lacking defensively. They’re as good as anyone.”
The Pirates (7-0, 3-0 Coastal 10 Conference) earlier got the go-ahead runs with a two-RBI hit by Mason Votava.
Phthisic also brought in a run, although it was his diving grab that most were talking about after his team’s victory.
“Easily it’s 3-3 (without the catch),” Perquimans coach Justin Roberson said. “That team (Camden) played hard, and they have some guys who can swing it.”
Both admitted some sloppiness early on account of the nerves going into another rivalry meeting, which will likely be a deciding factor on who wins the Coastal 10 crown.
They faced off three times last season, the third in the 1A state playoffs as Perquimans pulled off the win at Camden.
Ten months later, the respect remains from the teams even as the competition is as fierce as ever.
“It’s always this way and that’s what makes it special,” Leary said. “It’s like a playoff atmosphere and it’s good for the kids.”