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Lady Bulldogs topple Louisburg en route to East Regional Final

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PRINCETON — Princeton High sophomore Gracelyn Massey pitched a one-hit shutout to take down Louisburg, the 2018 North Carolina High School Athletic Association 1-A East Region champion, Louisburg, 2-0 on Thursday, to send the Lady Bulldogs to the East final series for the first time since 2016.

“That No. 8 (Massey), she’s only a sophomore. She’s poised, you don’t see any emotion out of her and she’s the best I ever been around — as a person and a pitcher,” Princeton head coach Don Andrews said. “She’s a Princeton Bulldog. She’s going to get the job done.”

Massey walked just two Lady Warriors (15-6) and totaled nine strikeouts. She hasn’t allowed more than two runs in a game since March 29 against 1-A Carolina Conference foe North Duplin. During that span, Lady Bulldogs (14-2), seeded No. 2 in the East, have won nine straight games and Massey has allowed just seven runs.

After stranding three runners in scoring position during the first and second innings, Princeton broke through in the fourth inning with junior Reanna Braswell’s line-drive double over the third baseman’s head to score sophomore LeOnna Nelson from first after Nelson’s infield single in the previous at-bat. Sophomore Meredith Wooten led off the fifth inning with a double, and Hailey Woodall’s single brought Wooten in for an insurance run.

The last Princeton team to go the East Regional Final also won the only state championship in program history. The 2016 team has a couple of similarities to this team: They both lost in the third round the previous season and both swept county rival and 2-A powerhouse, North Johnston. Despite the 2016 team having three freshmen, the current Lady Bulldogs have no seniors like the 2016 team that was led by seniors Kelsey Peedin, Taylor Carroll and Hailey Wood.

Massey said even though there are no seniors on the team, advice she received last year as a freshman from then-senior Megan Bryant — who was a member of the 2016 team — has helped Massey on the mound this season.

“Last year, she told me never show my emotions on the mound and I would make it far,” Massey said. “I’ve worked really hard on never showing my emotions on the mound.”

Massey isn’t the only young player who isn’t fazed without having a senior on the team as Wooten and Nelson both have stepped up throughout the season and especially in the playoffs. Wooten, the speedy outfielder with the impeccable range in the field, and Nelson, the power-hitting third baseman, have had a lot of success this year as members of the basketball and volleyball teams that won the conference championship and went to at least round 2 in the playoffs. Nelson said the chemistry of playing together is helping the team on this playoff run.

“We’ve all been playing together since middle school and we’ve all grown this relationship that we play hard and play together as a team,” Nelson said.

In Tuesday’s 12-1 third-round win over Riverside, Nelson was the big star, going 4 for 4 with two doubles and a home run. Wooten was also big in the game as she was 2 for 3 with a double and an RBI. Wooten, the point guard for the basketball team, is the leader of the outfield and against the No. 3-seeded Lady Warriors of the 1-A/2-A Northern Carolina Conference, she had to make three impressive catches that helped hold Louisburg to one hit. Wooten said she likes the big stage.

“I like being a leader, it’s fun,” Wooten said. “It feels good to finally make it this far in a sport. We have confidence and each other to rely on. It’s easy when you have people like them to play with.”

Score by innings:

Louisburg0000000—0

Princeton000110X—2

WP-Gracelyn Massey 7 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 2 BB, 9 SO. LP-Laine Barefoot 6 IP, 8 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 1 BB, 5 SO.

LEADING HITTERS — Princeton: Hailey Woodall 2-3, RBI; Reanna Braswell 1-3, 2B, RBI.

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