CLIMAX — When two of the top high school softball pitchers in the state face one another, everything seems to be magnified just a bit more than usual.
Every defensive play is key, every hit is clutch and, no matter how it gets done, a team must find a way to get runners across the plate.
In an early-season Piedmont Athletic Conference pitching showdown between Providence Grove’s Emma Mazzarone and Southwestern Randolph’s Maci Crutchfield Friday night, it was the Cougars who found a way to earn a very impressive victory.
Crutchfield came within two outs of throwing a no-hitter, settling for a one-hit, 14-strikeout performance in the Cougars’ 5-0 victory at PGHS. SWR, which scored an unearned run in the second inning without the benefit of a hit, broke open a tight game with a four-run sixth inning. The win gave the Cougars a 4-0 overall record and 2-0 league mark heading into action earlier this week.
“It was a really big win for us,” said SWR coach Chad Whitson, whose team finished with eight hits in the contest. “Anytime you come away with a win facing Mazzarone, it’s a good day.”
Crutchfield, a right-handed sophomore, is now 3-0 on the season with a 0.30 ERA. She has allowed just one run and seven hits in 23 innings of work. She has walked five and struck out 48. She allowed just a one-out single by PG’s Devin Kelly and retired 11 straight and 13 of the final 14 batters she faced.
“It felt amazing,” Crutchfield said. “The team really helped with the cheering. That helped keep us going. It helped me a lot. I felt like they had my back.”
Crutchfield used a strong riseball, well-located fastballs and tremendous off-speed pitches to keep Providence Grove, which slipped to 3-2 overall and 1-1 in the PAC, at bay.
“She has a lot of confidence, she’s played a lot of ball and she has a heck of a riseball,” veteran PG coach Tim Brown said. “When it’s coming, you just can’t lay off of it.”
While Crutchfield was absolutely masterful, Mazzarone was equally as impressive through five innings. The senior left-hander, who is heading to Virginia Tech in the fall, allowed just two hits and one unearned run, recording nine of her 12 strikeouts in the first five innings.
The Cougars grabbed an early 1-0 lead in the second when Caressa King reached on a two-base error, stole third and scored when the throw to third sailed into left field.
That was all the scoring until the sixth when the Cougars scored four more times. King had an RBI double to plate Maddy Varner, who had singled, Ally Lowe had a clutch two-run single, Madelyn Smith had an RBI hit and Maddie Strider had a single.
“I was telling our girls we know she is going to be around the plate,” Whitson said. “These girls were focused tonight. We work really hard in practice and push hard on being good with the bats in their hands. We put the ball in play and got hits when we needed to.”
Mazzarone, who was 24-1 last year with a 0.31 ERA, had pitched back-to-back shutouts last week heading into the game with the Cougars.
“Toward the end, you could tell my velocity was down,” said Mazzarone, who pitched every inning for the Patriots last year (158 innings) and all 33 innings so far this year. “I just tried to get it across the plate and let the girls do the work.”
Lowe and King each had two hits for the Cougars.