North All-Star Heather Carter of Manzano catches a fly ball in the third game of the North/South All-Star softball series Saturday at the Lady Wildcat Softball Complex in Clovis. The North won the game 9-7 and series 2-1. (Staff photo: Eric Kluth)
By Eric Butler: CNJ correspondent
It was just the kind of springboard an underdog team needed.
Heading into the annual North/South All-Star softball series on Friday, the North was a regular participant but rarely a winner — with only four series victories in 17 attempts.
After being shutout by Alamogordo pitcher Tiffany Garofano 3-0 in the opening game of a Friday night doubleheader in Clovis, the North spent almost the entire second game trailing as well.
But after coming back from a 4-2 deficit in the sixth to eventually force extra innings, the North won the game 7-6 in the eighth. The North countered the South’s two-run outburst in the top of the eighth with three runs in the bottom half — all without benefit of a hit, thanks to errant South fielding.
Heading into Saturday’s deciding game, the North’s confidence was up while the South’s was shaken.
The North parlayed its newfound faith into a 9-7 victory on Saturday to take the series.
“This is an incredible bunch of girls. This is so awesome,” said Highland’s Ron Thomas, coach of the North All-Stars. “They just don’t know how to quit. Every one of these kids just love the game so much.”
Trailing 2-0, the North started the bottom of the second with a lead-off double from Manzano’s Antoinette Whiting and then batted around to score six runs.
With two more runs in the bottom of the fifth, the North had a seemingly secure 8-2 lead.
The South, however, rallied in the top of the sixth. Six different players hit singles as the South chased North starter Ruth Sagartz of Academy.
The last person Sagartz faced, Carlsbad’s Carolyn Smith, came up with North leading 8-5 and the bases loaded. She rocketed a hit to center that scored two runs, but the third runner to score was ruled — on an appeal — not to have touched home plate as the North held on to a one-run lead.
On in relief, St. Pius’ Garcia then retired Artesia’s Sarah Venegas for the final out of the sixth.
“There was a fan who noticed and shouted down that home plate wasn’t touched,” Thomas said. “The catcher (his daughter, Casey Thomas of Highland) asked for an appeal. What incredible timing on that one.”
Clovis’ Laura Wood, who got an RBI single at the beginning of the South rally, said she was sure her team had actually drawn even.
“We did tie the game — it was not very great,” said Wood, who thought the all-star experience as a whole was good. “It was exciting. It was great meeting all these people.”
Garcia was the pitcher for the North in the series’ opening game — a 3-0 loss where Garofano threw her shutout. But Garofano pitched three more innings in Friday’s second game and used up all her eligibility as a hurler.
Meanwhile, Garcia ended up with the win in that game on Friday after throwing to only a couple of batters. Still under the 10-inning pitching limit per person, Garcia retired the South in order in the seventh inning on Saturday to preserve the win.
The last out was a ringing shot by Garofano off Garcia’s leg that ricocheted to Whiting, who then threw to first to end the game.
“It hurt, but we got it done,” Garcia said. “I knew she (Whiting) would get it and make the play — I wasn’t worried about the defense.”