MOORESVILLE—Aided by great offensive execution late in the game Tuesday, Mooresville is going back to the 4A state quarterfinals.
The Blue Devils (25-3), seeded third in the West, plated two runs during the sixth inning and then kept No. 6 seed Olympic (18-4) scoreless in the top of the seventh to prevail 3-1 in the third round of the playoffs.
This is the third straight year the Blue Devils have advanced to the quarterfinals. They're one victory away from the program's first trip to the best-of-3 West region finals where the winner will advance to the 4A state championship series.
"We're really excited," said Mariah Pearson, Mooresville’s senior left fielder. The Maine signee contributed in the runs to the previous quarterfinals, which ended with a 6-0 loss at Richmond County in 2017 and last year in heartbreaking fashion, 2-1, on a walk-off, two-run homer at South Caldwell.
"This was a great team win," Pearson added. "I feel like we're ready to take on this next game."
THE SQUEEZE IS ON
With Tuesday’s tilt tied at 1-all, freshman cleanup hitter Ellie Goins walked to lead off the Mooresville sixth. It was one of only two walks issued by Trojans senior pitcher Aisha Weixlmann, a Winthrop signee who struck out eight but also hit Mooresville batter Cassidy Amon twice.
Goins stole second base and advanced to third on Olivia Marshall's sacrifice bunt. That was the second out, though.
Up to the plate stepped Imara Harrell, whose walk-off homer made her the hero of the I-Meck Conference tournament championship game May 2.
Time was called during Harrell’s at-bat, allowing Weixlmann to stretch out a cramping leg.
Shortly after play resumed, Harrell squared to bunt. The ball hit the bat and went a couple of feet directly in front of the plate. Goins, already breaking toward home, scored on the play to give the Blue Devils the lead, 2-1.
The speedy Harrell was safe at first on the play, and she rounded the bag in pursuit of second. Weixlmann tried to catch her in a rundown but her throw to second base went into the center field. Harrell hustled on around the base path and scored as well.
“There were two outs anyway so we’re moving when the ball comes off the bat,” Mooresville coach Paul Kikta said of the play call. “When the pitcher had that cramp we talked about trying to squeeze it. Imara did it perfect.”
COME UP FIRING
Harrell, Mooresville’s center fielder, also provided an important defensive gem in the top of the sixth.
She threw a strike to Goins at second base when Olympic’s Caitlyn Moore tried to turn a single into a double. The Mooresville shortstop’s tag was in time. That was just the first out, but Trojans batters strung three more singles together right behind Moore.
“Imara is an amazing athlete,” Pearson said. “She made a really tough play. She does it in practice. (I’m) happy to see it in the game, too. It definitely saved at least one run.”
IN THE FIELD
Kali Morton was the winning pitcher. She struck out seven and limited the Trojans to one run on six hits and two walks.
Backing Morton’s strong effort was a solid display of defense. The Blue Devils turned an inning-ending double play in the first, and catcher Jentri Meadows ended the top of the second when she threw out Weixlmann attempting to steal second.
“Defensively we did the job,” Kikta said. “Kali pitched well, pitched out of some jams.”
First baseman Caitlin Mann had the only other hit for Mooresville. She singled to right field in the first inning to score Hailey Lane.
Zalyn Bradford’s infield chopper in the top of the fifth scored Olympic’s only run and tied the game. The throw to first from Mooresville third baseman Macy Martin was ruled not in time by the field umpire.
Offense was at a premium. The Blue Devils had enough.
“We knew it wouldn't be easy,” Kikta said. “When you get to the round of 16 it's not going to be.”
The Blue Devils host No. 7 Hickory Ridge (18-6) in the quarterfinals. Their game is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday.
Hickory Ridge defeated No. 15 Scotland County (12-10) in the third round, 5-1.
As the highest remaining seed in the West, Mooresville would have home-field advantage if it advances to next week’s West region finals series. South Caldwell (20-3), seeded fifth, and No. 9 Providence (17-5) meet in the other half of the West bracket.
Providence upset Richmond County (25-3), the region’s No. 1 seed, 6-5 on Tuesday. Second seed West Forsyth lost to Scotland County 3-1 in the second round.