After an average regular season, Northwood Academy’s softball team is playing its best ball of the season when it counts most.

Northwood Academy moved one step closer to a softball state title with a 2-1 win over defending state champion Laurence Manning Academy in the SCISA AAA state championship best-of-three series on Tuesday.

Senior second baseman Samantha Chubb had two RBIs and pitcher Haley Herndon allowed three hits as the Chargers beat Laurence Manning after losing three times this season to the Swampcats.

Game two is set for today in Manning at 4 p.m.

Northwood was 12-9 during the regular season but is 5-1 in the postseason, including four consecutive wins.

“I have preached all season defense, defense, defense, and today we really stepped up and made some plays,” said coach Becky Tobin. “I have a lot of respect for Laurence Manning, and I just told our girls to play one game at a time. Play one inning at a time. We can’t look ahead. We just have to play what’s in front of us. So far, we’ve been able to do that in the playoffs.”

While Chubb and Herndon were providing plenty of senior leadership, the play of two eighth graders was key to the victory on Tuesday.

Catcher Katelyn Powell threw out two runners attempting to steal second and also threw a runner out trying to take second on a throw home.

Right fielder Bailey Westbury made the defensive play of the game in the top of the seventh. With one out, Westbury made a diving catch of a line drive hit by LMA’s Emily McElveen, a ball that appeared at the very least to be a single but could have been a triple had the catch not been made.

“That was really a big play for sure,” said Tobin. “We talk a lot about team concept and how it takes everyone to contribute. We seem to be doing a better job of playing as a team late in the year.”

Neither team had much offense, each picking up three singles, as defense and pitching dominated the play. Northwood scored a run in the bottom of the first on Chubb’s RBI groundout.

Laurence Manning tied the game in the fourth, taking advantage of an error with two outs. Emily McElveen’s shallow fly to left was dropped and McElveen took second aggressively on the throw back to the infield. Dixie Richburg followed with a ground ball through the middle, scoring McElveen.

In the bottom of the fifth, Chubb delivered a two-out RBI single between short and third for a 2-1 advantage.