Battle of Grace is a knockout victory

Apr. 4—It was Grace against GRACE Tuesday afternoon at Carson Oldham Field, and the outcome was a defeat for the Caps Lock key.

Hometown Grace Christian of Sanford jumped on visiting GRACE Christian of Raleigh in the bottom half of the first inning, scoring six times and never looking back on its way to a 13-1 mercy-rule win over the visiting Eagles.

The Lady Crusaders (4-3 overall) came away with the win in their first appearance in 13 days. After scoring six runs in the first inning, they tacked on seven more in the second and then made a handful of subs to get other players into the game. After GRACE barely avoided a double-mercy rule loss in just three innings, the game played out through five, with the visitors pushing across one run in the final half-inning before the game was called.

The Crusaders had rarely faced GRACE Christian in any sport prior to two years ago, when the local Grace Christian started to move up in the NCISAA classification system and began to compete at the same level as GRACE, which has been 2A or 3A for many years. The teams met in the men's soccer and men's basketball state playoffs this academic year and split the meetings, and played in the softball regular season a year ago, with the Lady Crusaders also winning that contest 13-1.

The visitors got the leadoff batter on base via an error, but Lady Crusader pitcher Hayley Pugh had her stuff working and whiffed the next two batters before GRACE's cleanup hitter singled to left. However, Addison Kirk came up throwing for the Lady Crusaders, hit the cutoff in shortstop McKayla McDougald, and she fired home to catcher Abby Carville to nail the runner at home and end the inning.

There would be no more suspense in this game. McKayla McDougald led off the Grace first with a walk, then came all the way around and eventually stole home. Olivia Hochevar followed with a triple, not missing a home run by much. Then Hayley Pugh stepped to the plate and blasted a 1-0 offering high over the center-field fence for a 3-0 lead.

McKenzy McDougald walked after the homer and then the Lady Crusaders proceeded to add three more runs to their tally, thanks to a walk by Kinsley Pugh and a few errors by the Eagles.

Hayley Pugh struck out the side in the GRACE second and the Lady Crusaders went back on the attack, scoring seven more. Highlights of the inning included a triple by Hayley Pugh, followed by three straight doubles from McKenzy McDougald, Hailey Hughes, and Kinsley Pugh. The Lady Crusaders eased up and the next two batters, Macey Jackson and Victoria Thomas, only had singles. But then Carville doubled to drive in Thomas with the Lady Crusaders' final run.

Thomas came in to pitch the rest of the game, starting by striking out the side in the GRACE third. She allowed an unearned run in the fifth but only two hits.

The Lady Crusaders will travel to Wake Christian on Friday. The game will be a strong challenge for Grace, as the Lady Bulldogs are undefeated and ranked No. 2 in the NCISAA 3A ranks.