CLAYTON — It is said one good turn deserves another.
In the matter of South Johnston’s softball team in its Two Rivers 3A Conference matchup with league-leading Cleveland, it was a matter of one good home run deserves another. And that’s what the Trojans got from junior Madison Byrd, as she delivered a one-out, two-run homer in the top half of the fifth inning, helping lead the Trojans to an 8-2 victory.
Byrd’s homer answered the two-out, two-run homer by Cleveland’s Alexis Ivey in the bottom of the fourth that had trimmed the South Johnston lead to 3-2.
Ivey’s blast had apparently given momentum to the Rams (7-3, 3-1).
But Byrd’s shot — to the deepest part of the stadium — restored that momentum to the Trojans, who added three additional runs in the seventh in moving into a tie for first place in the conference with the Rams at 3-1 in league play and 10-1 overall.
“It was a big play in the game,” said Trojans coach Mickey Bridgers, whose team improved to 3-1 in the conference and 10-1 overall. “It was her first this year, and it came at an opportunistic time.”
Cleveland coach Samantha Coats agreed the homer was the turning point.
“We had a tough time hitting the ball tonight. I thought when we finally got that home run, we were finally going to put something together,” she said. “But they came right back, and regained momentum with their home run, and it put us back down again. We couldn’t get back up.”
The blast, which scored Kayla Allen ahead of her, gave Byrd a team-leading three RBIs, her first coming in the opening inning on a sacrifice that drove in leadoff batter Krista Collins. Collins had opened the game with a single to left, moving around the bases on a stolen base and an error before Byrd laid down a bunt up the first base line.
Collins opened the top of the third with a double to left, scoring on a one-out grounder by Allen. Collins was 2-for-4 at the plate, while Byrd, batting clean-up, was 2-for-2 and three runs scored.
Byrd followed Allen’s RBI grounder with a single to right, moving to second on a walk and scoring on Carissa Womble’s single to center for the 3-0 advantage.
But Cleveland, which had been handcuffed through the game by South’s Lauren Higgins, broke through in the fourth when Brittany Bucklin was hit by a pitch, and Ivey delivered her homer to center.
However, the Rams never threatened after Ivey’s blast, as Higgins retired 10 of the final 11 batters she faced, including the last nine.
Higgins recorded seven strikeouts, while issuing one walk and surrendering two hits.
“Lauren pitched an outstanding game,” Bridgers said. “Carissa Womble caught a fantastic game, and the team played very well tonight.
“We had to because we knew we were playing a very good, quality opponent.”
Higgins thwarted a first inning threat by Cleveland, turning back the Rams on consecutive strikeouts and a weak pop to second after surrendering a lead off double Cleveland pitcher Traylor Drayton, who stole third with no one out.
Drayton, a sophomore, struck out six batters while walking five and surrendering eight hits. Three of those walks came in the three-run seventh by the Trojans, who added hits by hits by Higgins and Carolina Dorman.
Dorman enjoyed a multiple hit evening for the Trojans, going 2-for-4.
“Taylor’s been under the weather,” Coats said. “But she always does the best she can.
“She won’t be perfect everytimr - that’s why we have the defense behind her.”
Bridgers knew despite her health, Drayton would be a formidable challenge his charges would face.
“She (Drayton) is a very good power pitcher,” Bridgers said. “Very young, and going to be a very good high school pitcher, because she continues to develop and work on other pitches.
“We knew it was going to be a challenge, and she was capable of shutting us down - but we came ready to hit the ball.”
Coats said to lose early in conference play may be beneficial to her team.
“This is our first conference loss,” Coats said. “Sometimes you have to have a tough loss and come back stronger from it.”