Bratton's walk-off sends Lady Bruins to regional final

Camden 3 Vance Charter 2

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The Camden softball team celebrates after defeating Vance Charter School in the fourth round of the NCHSAA Class 1A softball state playoff game, Friday, May 18, 2019 at the Camden softball field near Camden Community Park.


By David Gough
Sports Writer

Sunday, May 19, 2019

CAMDEN — The Lady Bruins had been here before.

Just as in last year’s 1A NCHSAA fourth round playoff game, Camden softball entered the bottom of the seventh inning Friday night in a tied ball game and a trip to the regional final on the line.

But unlike Cailey Byrum’s walk-off home run in 2018, this time it was a single to send the 2019 version of the Camden softball team to the state semifinal.

Briana Bratton, with nobody out and bases loaded, hit the game-winner just beyond the left side of the infield to score Taniya Swinson and give Camden the 3-2 victory over No. 12 Vance Charter School.

“You should want to be there,” Bratton said. “You should want get a chance to get that hit. I’ve been playing for many years and been in that position before. Just got up there, got my pitch and put it in the right spot.”

The seventh inning started with Kaiyah Dooley, Camden’s only senior, ripping a single to center field.

Hannah Ferebee followed with a successful sacrifice bunt attempt that went even better for the Lady Bruins (24-1) when the catcher from Vance Charter threw a little too high toward second base.

The ball found the outfield and Swinson, Dooley’s pinch runner, made it to third base. The Lady Knights then intentionally walked Kamryn Nash to have a force out at any base.

On an 0-1 count, Bratton sent the No. 1 seed back to the regional final.

“Heck of a game,” Camden coach Charles Nash said. “Tight game and I honestly don’t know the last time we were behind (this season). So to see what we’re made of and come out of it like we did, that was great.”

The usually explosive Camden offense had its chances to break away from Vance Charter (16-5), but a handful of uncharacteristic outs on the base path throughout the game kept the Lady Knights in it.

Two very similar back-to-back hits from Skylar Hyatt, however, were key in Camden even having its first two runs of the game.

In the second, the sophomore looped a double less than a foot away from being foul down the left field line. The hit scored Hailey Bunting, who led off the inning with a single, to give the Lady Bruins a 1-0 lead.

After the Lady Knights finally broke through against Bunting in the top of the fourth for two runs, Hyatt had a nearly identical hit to score Nicole Villardi and tie the game back up at 2-2.

“Big hits,” coach Nash said. “To do it in this game, those were two big hits.”

Vance Charter’s two runs came as a result of a lead-off single from Alisha Pulley and ensuing double from Micki Maxson.

Savannah Talley followed Maxson’s hit with a sacrifice fly for the first run and Avery Puryear hit a RBI single for what would be the Lady Knight’s final run of the game.

“I thought they started seeing the pitches better (the second time through the lineup),” Vance Charter coach Brian Bunn said. “But we just couldn’t come up with that big hit.”

Before then, Bunting mowed down the Vance Charter lineup with three pop-ups to begin the game and six consecutive strikeouts to follow.

It was a tad more difficult for Bunting in the later innings, but she got out of them unscathed regardless thanks to solid defense behind her.

“One of those things where one or two plays went their way and not ours,” Bunn said.

With two out and runners on first and second in the fifth, Maxson hit the ball toward a diving second baseman in Sydney Tatum.

Tatum made the stop to her right and while it was an infield hit, the effort prevented Vance Charter’s Charly Cooper from easily scoring.

Instead, Bunting got Talley to pop up to shortstop in the next at-bat and stranded the bases loaded opening the door for Camden to later take the lead and win.

“(Tatum) saved a run and that was a big momentum thing because if not, we just tie the ball game (in the seventh),” coach Nash said.

Bunting finished the day with seven innings pitched, nine strikeouts, three walks and six hits allowed.

Hyatt finished 2-for-3 with two RBI doubles and Bratton finished 2-of-4 with a RBI and a double.

Now, Camden finds itself exactly where it was last season. This time, though, the Lady Bruins have the home-field advantage and will face No. 2 Princeton in a best-of-three series starting Tuesday.

Princeton knocked off Louisburg, who defeated Camden in last year’s regional final, in its fourth round game.

“I told (the team), ‘We’re back where we were at last year,” coach Nash said, “now let’s build on that.”