CLAYTON — The final play of the second round, 3A state softball playoff game between Cleveland and Central Davidson seems to summarize perfectly the Rams’ season thus far.
As Cleveland pitcher Taylor Drayton scrambled to pick up the ball hit solidly right at her that had deflected off her glove, she remained calm and finished the play.
Drayton recovered in time to get Spartans leadoff hitter Josie Jones, the potential game-tying run, by less than a step at first base to preserve a 3-1 Ram victory over Central Davidson.
“I was nervous, but at the same time I knew I had to get the out to win the game,” Drayton said of the play. “Personally, I do better in pressure situations because I know I have to get it (done) so I know what to do.”
What Drayton did all night long, as she has for most of the season, was retire hitters. The sophomore pitcher tossed the complete game gem in which she allowed just the one run on four hits while striking out seven batters in contrast to just one walk handed out.
Drayton’s lone base on balls issued during the game eventually scored on a Cassie Fortner RBI single in the third inning that tied the game at 1.
“She was on; everything was working,” Cleveland coach Samantha Coats said of her pitcher’s performance. “When she's on, it's hard to beat us.
“No matter what, she going to finish, she's going to finish out.”
Central Davidson’s Kailee Mabe kept the Spartans’ hopes alive in the top of the seventh inning with a two-out double to left field, allowing Jones to come to the plate representing the tying run.
On the final play, however, Jones made good contact and sent the ball right back at Drayton who was able to get her glove on it before chasing it down and turning to nab Jones at first base to secure the final out.
“That pretty much sums up our year,” Coats said. “No matter what, we get our composure back and we finish.”
Drayton helped get things going for the Rams in the first inning too with a leadoff walk before she took third base on what amounted to a swinging bunt from Maura Mangum.
Heather McLean proceeded to ground out to the pitcher but not before Drayton crossed home plate to score the game’s first run.
With the score tied in the bottom of the third, Brittany Bucklin similarly drove in a run on a hard hit groundball to second base to give Cleveland, co-champions of the Two Rivers Conference, the 2-1 lead.
Becca Straka added some insurance in the fourth inning with an RBI double.
"I could tell that my girls wanted it tonight," said Coats. "They had a lot of heart the whole game. They've never been where they are right now; it's a huge accomplishment for them."