WESTERLY — Westerly High softball coach Chris Luppe knew Johnston had put together 10 wins in Division II softball this season on the strength of its bats.
If the Bulldogs were to defeat the Panthers on Wednesday, they would need a solid outing from senior pitcher Ally Northup.
Northup did her part, throwing a two-hitter with no walks as the Bulldogs prevailed, 4-1, at Cimalore Field.
"They have good hitters and they take aggressive swings," Luppe said. "And [Northup] kept them mostly at bay. She didn't allow them to bunch anything together. And she didn't walk anybody and our defense was solid."
Northup struck out seven.
"The screwball was working pretty well and the rise was working pretty well too. I was able to get a lot of people to swing at the rise balls," said Northup, who has an ERA of 1.95 with 110 strikeouts in 86 innings this season.
Northup also had an effective curveball that moved quickly across the plate against Johnston's right-handed batters.
Northup did not allow a hit through the first three innings. Johnston's Sam Febus opened the fourth with a double to deep center field. One out later, she came home on an Emily Raposo single to cut Westerly's lead to 2-1.
But Northup struck out the next batter and got a flyout to center field to end the inning. She then retired 10 of the final 11 batters to end the game.
Westerly got all the runs it would need in the second inning. Northup reached on outfield error to lead off the inning, and Elena Murdock walked.
Two outs later, freshman Hannah Nicholson delivered a bloop single to right field that scored courtesy runner Alexa Beal and Murdock.
Nicholson, who finished 2 for 3, is hitting .393.
"I just wanted to get the runs in because we had not scored anything yet," Nicholson said.
Luppe said grabbing an early lead was important.
"When you get that early lead, it takes so much pressure off you," Luppe said. "It gives the pitcher confidence and it helps the fielders and batters. To get a clean, two-out hit from the No. 9 batter was huge."
Westerly added two more runs in the sixth.
Northup reached on an infield error to start the inning. Murdock reached on a bunt single and the throw was wide at first moving Beal, who was running for Northup, to third and Murdock to second.
Timmary Main then tried to drop down a bunt and was unsuccessful. She acted if she was going to bunt on another pitch, but pulled her bat back and slapped a ball through the spot on the left side of the infield vacated by the shortstop covering third base on the expected bunt.
The single scored Beal and Murdock to make it 4-1. Three of Westerly's four runs were unearned.
"They were moving early, so I took the bunt off and put the slap on and she executed it perfectly," Luppe said. "To go into that last inning up three as opposed to one makes it a heck of a lot easier."
Westerly shortstop Alex Mitchell made the defensive play of the day for the final out. She dove to her left to stop a hard-hit grounder up the middle. She then got to her knees and threw to first baseman Adrienne Bowen to end the game.
The win puts Westerly in a strong position in Division II-Thornton. The Bulldogs are 10-3 with three league games remaining, while Johnston is 10-4 with two league games left.
Westerly still has to play Classical on Friday (home, 4 p.m.), Middletown on Tuesday and Exeter-West Greenwich on May 23. The Bulldogs beat those three teams by a combined 34-5 this season.
"We have one less loss [than Johnston] and we have the tiebreaker having swept the season series," Luppe said. "That gives us some breathing room. If we stumble once, we are good. If we stumble twice, we don't deserve it."