DANBURY — Pickups of all sizes and colors lined the fences of the North Stokes softball field.
Tailgates were pulled down — an extra seat or two for an already crowded venue. There were plenty of cowbells, loudspeakers and air horns scattered just a few steps away from the outfield.
That rowdy crowd slowly became quieter as the game — and possibly the season — neared its end.
Top-seeded North Stokes trailed by two runs to No. 3 seed Robbinsville going into the bottom of the seventh inning. That is, until Carley Gravely, stepped up to the plate with runners on first and second.
Gravely, a junior, hit a game-winning homer over those pickups parked outside of center field on Saturday afternoon, and the Vikings defeated the Black Knights 3-2 in the NCHSAA Class 1-A West Region final.
Those three runs — scored by Sydney Mabe from second, Grace Yarbrough in for Megan Bibee from first and Gravely from the plate — sent North Stokes to the state title round for the first time since 2014. That season, which ended with a 28-3 record and the win over Whiteville, was the first Class 1-A championship victory in school history for the Vikings (27-1).
North Stokes now moves on to face Camden County, a top seed in the East Region, in a best-of-three series set to start Friday, May 31.
It was an emotional win for Gravely. The deepest playoff appearance she has experienced in her high school softball career was a fourth-round game against No. 4 South Stanly last season, which resulted in a 3-2 loss. North Stokes was a top seed that year as well.
“I knew I needed to come through for my team,” Gravely said. “Seeing that pitch, I was like, ‘That’s a watermelon. I’ve got to hit it for my team.’ When I did; it just went out.
“I don’t know. It’s indescribable right now.”
The clutch hit turned the tide in less than a minute. With two outs, Gravely stepped up to the plate to face Robbinsville starter Jerri Anna Roper.
A ball. Two strikes. A foul.
Then came Gravely’s homer to center, as the Black Knights’ Gracye Burchfield backpedaled to the fence. There was no fielding it. The ball sailed over tailgates.
“When I saw it cut to center field, I sat there like, ‘OK, I just won the ballgame for us,’” Gravely said. “I wasn’t thinking nothing coming up to the bat. But after, everything just kept coming through my mind of, ‘We’re going to states now.’”
It was the second game-winning shot for North Stokes in its postseason run this year, with the first in a 4-2 win over No. 8 East Wilkes on May 14 in the third round. Lora Wood had a two-run homer in the eight-inning game.
According to Gravely, the three-game series with Robbinsville has been a roller-coaster. The first game ended in a 10-0 victory for North Stokes in Danbury, where Autumn Martin pitched a no-hitter. On Thursday, the Black Knights knocked off the Vikings 8-4 in Robbinsville.
“Poor Carley’s been struggling the past few games — I think she had just one base hit in the last game we played,” said Coach Jeff Frye of North Stokes, who was doused with cold water by his players after the team accepted its regional trophy. “To come up, and do what she did right here, I’ll tell you what it’s all heart. All heart.”
Martin started again for the Vikings in the finale, throwing 118 pitches for eight strikeouts and two walks.
The Black Knights (24-5) managed to score two runs in the top of the third to take a lead the team held through out the game until Gravely’s homer. With two outs, Maggie Knight singled to left which scored Burchfield from second.
After a hit from Mikayla Morgan, Ivy Odom then singled to left, scoring Knight.
Coach Billy Knight of Robbinsville saw a swift end to the season, but looked back on the successes after a rough beginning to the year.
“We started our first game with a loss to Franklin in about 28-degree weather,” Knight said. “We kind of pulled ourselves together.
“I can’t say enough about this program.”
Martin, again the starter for Saturday's game, said she felt she had a good outing. She threw 118 pitches for eight strikeouts — five of them in the first two innings — and two walks. Robbinsville’s Roper ended the day throwing 90 pitches, walking none and striking out five.
Martin had anticipated Gravely making a game-winning play.
“I called it,” Martin laughed. “I said, ‘She’s going to walk-off right here.’
“She’s a clutch hitter. She gets up there and doesn’t think (about it).”
North Stokes 3 Robbinsville 2
Robbinsville 002 000 0 — 2 8 0 North Stokes 000 000 3 — 3 7 0
Autumn Martin and Sydney Mabe; Jerri Anna Roper and Maggie Knight. WP — Autumn Martin. LP — Jerri Anna Roper. Records — North Stokes (27-1), Robbinsville (24-5).