Video: Greene’s gem leads R’ham past Dunn

Hurler strikes out 13 in complete-game win

By Kevin Spradlin

* Photo gallery – more than 800 pics
* Video interview – Jenna Greene

CARTHAGE — For Jenna Greene, there’s never any doubt about it. She’s never alone.

After every strikeout, Greene’s teammates offer a congratulatory visit to the mound before it’s time for the next pitch. As the Rockingham All-Stars faced Dunn on Saturday in Game 1 of the North Carolina Dixie Softball Ponytails state tournament, Greene was visited a lot.

And as they leave the mound to resume their positions on the diamond, she knows they’re never far away. In fact, she relies on it.

Kevin Spradlin | Jenna Greene tosses a warm-up throw in the top of the second inning as Rockingham holds a 1-0 lead.

Kevin Spradlin |
Jenna Greene tosses a warm-up throw in the top of the second inning as Rockingham holds a 1-0 lead.

Greene struck out 13 and walked two and scattered two hits over six innings for the complete-game win as Rockingham edged Dunn, 2-1. Rockingham advances to play Lumberton at 2:15 p.m. at Hillcrest Park.

“We’re not a really big-hitting team, so defense means a lot,” Greene said. “I know that I have people to back me up.”

Rockingham made the most of its little hits on Saturday — and the Ponytails didn’t wait long to employ their strategy.

Jadyn Johnson led off the bottom of the first for Rockingham and bunted Caroline Marshall’s second pitch for a base hit. Ragan Liles hit into a fielder’s choice that moved Johnson to second with one out. Just as it’s drawn up in the small ball playbook, Savanna Barber laced an RBI single to score Johnson for a quick 1-0 Rockingham lead.

Greene followed with a single to left but Paige Ransom struck out and Madison Jordan hit a foul pop-up to third base that was caught by Gracyn Slaughter, who wasn’t done with her stellar defensive play.

Kevin Spradlin | Jadyn Johnson slides safely into third base in the bottom of the first inning on a fielder's choice by Ragan Liles.

Kevin Spradlin |
Jadyn Johnson slides safely into third base in the bottom of the first inning on a fielder’s choice by Ragan Liles.

On the mound, Greene mowed down Dunn’s lineup 1-2-3 in the top of the second — she struck out two more in the third — before Dunn played a little small ball of its own in the fourth.

Marshall, who had left the mound after two innings, laid a bunt down the third base line that was picked up, then dropped, by Liles. Caitlyn Holland struck out swinging, but Zoie Starling laid down the second bunt of the inning. This time Liles fielded it cleanly but rushed her throw, high, pulling first baseman Madison Jordan off the bag.

With two runners on base and only one out, things looked grim for Rockingham — until the umpire pumped his first in the “you’re out” fashion. He did so without a pitch being thrown because Starling failed to follow a base running rule correctly. Specifically, she was standing still when Greene was inside the pitcher’s circle when Starling should have been making her way back to the bag.

It was a call rarely made, but Rockingham saw it again in the bottom of the fourth. With one out, Liles laced a sharp single to left field and advanced to second on a passed ball. After Barber flew out to center — not quite deep enough to advance Liles — Greene’s single scored Liles and Greene went to second on the throw to home plate.

Kevin Spradlin | Ragan Liles slides safely into home for Rockingham's second run of the game.

Kevin Spradlin |
Ragan Liles reaches home without a play to give Rockingham a 2-0 lead against Dunn in the state tournament opener.

But with Paige Ransom in the batter’s box, the umpire again signaled an out without a pitch being thrown. This time, he said, it was Greene who wasn’t headed back to the bag as the rules dictate. The unusual call ended the inning.

Dunn threatened in the top of the fifth when J.J. Sankey led off with a single back to the mound. Brie Adams struck out. Sankey advanced to second, then third on a passed ball and Slaughter’s single to center scored Sankey and pulled Dunn within 2-1.

With two outs, Jada Horne ended the inning with a grounded out to Liles at short, who threw to Jordan at first for the third out.

Rockingham coach Matthew Liles said he wasn’t surprised at the closeness of the game. The two teams played in last year’s statement tournament three times. All three contests were tight, he said, including the championship game that was decided by a single run.

The bunts, he said, “set the tone early” and it turned out to be a successful one this time around.

“We don’t have a girl on the team who’s gonna hit it over the fence here,” he said.

While Dunn used three pitchers two innings apiece, Liles stuck with Greene on the mound throughout Game 1 — an approach defended by sound logic.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” Liles said.

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