GARNER — In a softball rivalry that has produced tight ball games on a regular basis recently, Friday night’s 7-0 Garner victory over Clayton an anomaly.
The Trojans (3-0, 1-0 Greater Neuse River 4A Conference) got a four-hit shutout from junior pitcher Lauren Marbrey and overcame 11 strikeouts by Clayton ace Nicole Bond to roll to the victory.
Defense hurt the Comets (2-2, 1-1), who made three errors in a four-run third inning that turned a 1-0 Garner lead into a 5-0 bulge.
“We played them twice last year and both times it was one-run games,” Garner coach Moe Barbour said. “It’s been like that for the last three years. Tonight is a little bit of a surprise to win 7-0.”
Turning point: The bottom of the third inning, when Garner broke open the game with four runs. With two outs, Clayton made three throwing errors on ground balls to allow three runs to score. Courtney Weathersbee drove in the inning’s final run with a one-hop double to the wall in center field.
Highlight reel: Weathersbee’s throw to the plate in the top of the third inning that cut down the Comets’ Abbey Durham, who was trying to score from second on a single by Ashley Murphy. The play ended the half-inning and kept the score at 1-0.
Unsung hero: Garner second baseman Brooke Kamphius, who went 2-for-4 and made several nice plays in the field. Kamphius is new to the team, having moved from Illinois to Garner.
“Moving here, I think tonight she finally felt comfortable,” Barbour said. “Tonight, I thought she put it all together, in the field, at the plate.”
What worked: For Garner, defense was key. Marbrey, who struck out seven, keeps the ball around the plate and the defense played well behind her. “The biggest difference in the ball game tonight was defense,” Barbour said.
For Clayton, Bond was the standout. The senior who has signed with Northwestern was dominant at times, striking out six batters over the final three innings. Bond also had reached base three times, getting walked twice and rapping a single.
“Nicole threw really well,” said Clayton coach Kelli Stephenson. “She does well as a leader out there on the field.”
What didn’t work: The Trojans swung at some pitches out of the strike zone, which played into the strength of Bond.
“I told the girls, you cannot help Nicole. If you help her, and she gets ahead of you, she will eat you up,” Barbour said. “We swung at some pitches out of the zone. She’s probably as good a pitcher as we’ll face all year.”
For Clayton, the defense was very shaky, which is uncharacteristic of Comets teams. “It was just mental errors, throwing errors,” Stephenson said. “But it’s something we can learn from.”
Going forward: These two teams figure to be in the hunt for the Greater Neuse River title with West Johnston making it another three-team shuffle.
Barbour is excited about the possibilities for the Trojans.
“I’ve been looking to this year for a while now,” he said. “We have got the pieces to go deep this year. We only lost one player from last year’s team, and Kamphius moved in. We have some team speed.”
Best quote: With Clayton’s Jenna Harris on second base following a double in the top of the first inning, Barbour elected to intentionally walk Bond with two outs and first base open. The next Comet, Lindsay Hodge, grounded out to end the half-inning.
“I told the girls in the first inning when we walked Nicole (intentionally). I said, ‘This could be a one-run game and I ain’t going to let her beat me.’ ”