Bruins top Bulldogs, win regional championship
Camden 6 Princeton 5
By Malcolm Shields
Saturday, May 25, 2019
PRINCETON — Entering the seventh inning, the chances of the Camden County softball team rallying from a three-run deficit against host Princeton seemed slim.
Then the Lady Bruins had one of the most improbable 1/ 2 innings in program history.
Camden scored four runs in the top of the seventh inning to defeat Princeton 6-5 Thursday night in Game 2 of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association Class 1A East Regional final series.
With the win, Camden (26-1) clinched the series two games to zero for the regional championship and secured its place in the NCHSAA Class 1A State Championship series Friday, May 31 and Saturday, June 1.
Camden will face the winner of the 1A West Regional final series between North Stokes and Robbinsville in the state championship series.
Camden began the top of the seventh with runners on first and second with one out trailing 5-2.
Camden’s Hannah Ferebee got the rally started with a 2-run triple to left field that cut the deficit to 5-4.
With two out and Ferebee at third base, Briana Bratton hit a ball down the left field line.
Princeton shortstop Hailey Woodall appeared to make a diving catch near the line to end the game, but the infield umpire nearest to the play ruled that the ball hit the ground.
That ruling allowed Ferebee to score to tie the game.
Bratton would score on a RBI hit by Carleigh Simmons, which gave Camden a 6-5 advantage.
“It’s really big. We finally pulled it together,” Camden pitcher Hailey Bunting said about winning the regional championship. “We finally strung together some hits and played our own game.”
Bunting added that Camden reached the regional final series last year, but she was happy that Camden was able to reach the state championship series this season.
Princeton (14-4) battled back in the bottom of the seventh.
The Bulldogs had runners at first and third base with two out, but Bunting was able to force a pop out to Camden’s Kamryn Nash at shortstop to end the game and the series.
Bunting knew all she had to do was to throw strikes and her defense would help her out.
After the game, Camden head coach Charles Nash wanted his team to take in the moment.
“’What you’ve just done is very hard to do,’” coach Nash said he told his team after the game. “We want to get here next year, but it’s not guaranteed so take it all in.”
The Camden coach acknowledged that he didn’t think Thursday’s ending of the game would be the outcome, but he credited his team for battling back.
“I told them, ’We didn’t play our best, but you didn’t give up.’ That’s something that’s hard to teach,” he said.
The game was scoreless until the bottom of the third inning.
With a runner on base, Princeton’s LeOnna Nelson hit a line drive to left field.
The Camden outfielder could not make the catch as the ball hit off her glove.
That allowed a run to score.
A Reanna Braswell RBI single gave the Bulldogs a 2-0 lead after three innings.
Camden responded in the top of the fourth inning with a two-out rally.
After back-to-back singles by Bunting and Nicole Villardi, Camden’s Skylar Hyatt hit a ground ball in the infield.
As Princeton pitcher Graclyn Massey picked up the ball and tossed the ball to first base, the ball was miss handled and rolled into foul territory.
The miscue allowed two Camden runners to score to tie the game at 2-all.
Princeton took a 3-2 lead in the fourth following a RBI single to center field by Woodall.
The Bulldogs posted two more runs in the fifth with a run coming off of a leadoff solo home run by Nelson and another on a RBI single by Morgan Miller.
During the inning, coach Nash went out to the pitching circle to talk to Bunting one-on-one.
“I told her, ‘You’re doing fine. You’re still throwing the same pitches you were throwing before,’” coach Nash said.
He added that if the home plate umpire isn’t calling the same pitches strikes or the pitches are a bit off the plate, Bunting had to continue to throw the same pitches.
“She settled back down and things worked out,” coach Nash said.
The Camden coach gave credit to the Princeton lineup for hitting better in Game 2 than in Game 1.
Bunting acknowledged that during the inning, she had to get her focus back.
“I knew that my team would come back in the end,” she said. “I knew we could do it. We have come back before.”
Bunting settled back in as the junior, did not surrender a run in the final two innings to pitch a complete game.
With the win, Camden clinched its first appearance to a state championship series since the 2012 season.
Bunting and coach Nash acknowledged that the win will have an impact in the Camden community.
“It’s going to pull us together, especially for sports. It’s going to put our name out there. It’s big for us,” Bunting said.
Coach Nash noted that he grew up and went to school in Camden.
“Very proud and lucky to be able to coach this team and these girls,” he said. “It’s big for the community.”
WHERE’S THE TROPHY?
Following Game 2, a trophy presentation for the regional runner-up and regional champion was not held.
Normally at the end of a regional final game, meet or series, a trophy presentation is held by the host school after the contest.
An email sent to the NCHSAA Thursday night asking if the trophies were at Princeton High School Thursday for the presentation was not answered by Friday evening.