Saturday, 05 May 2018 09:42

Lady Raiders softball earns hardware in SAC tournament championship game win over Jack Britt

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The Lady Raiders softball team poses with some hardware after winning the inaugural SAC tournament championship Friday in 7-2 fashion over Jack Britt. The Lady Raiders softball team poses with some hardware after winning the inaugural SAC tournament championship Friday in 7-2 fashion over Jack Britt. Photo courtesy of Michelle Morrison Parrish.

ROCKINGHAM - The No. 1 seeded Richmond Senior High School softball team accomplished its second of three major preseason goals Friday night by defeating No. 2 Jack Britt High School to win the inaugural Sandhills Athletic Conference tournament championship.

The dominating 7-2 victory over the visiting Lady Buccaneers in the title game marked the third time this season that Richmond defeated second-place Jack Britt. It was just the third time in the series’ history that Richmond (21-3, 17-0 SAC) beat the Fayetteville-based school three times in a single season (also done in 2014).

Following the championship game, Richmond now has a six-game winning streak against the Lady Bucs dating back to 2016.

Freshly ranked as the No. 1 4A team in the state in Maxpreps’ rankings released Friday morning, Richmond won its 10th straight game, and has outscored its opponents 155-24 in that span. Having surpassed the 20-win mark for the sixth straight year earlier in the week, the Lady Raiders added the tournament win to its already impressive 2018 resume.

Before the season began, head coach Wendy Wallace explained that the team’s primary goal was to go undefeated in SAC regular season play, and add an SAC championship along the way. This milestone win marks a redemption win from a year ago, when the Lady Raiders fell to Lumberton High School in the conference tournament finale.

Through 24 games this season, Richmond has scored 281 total runs, which is an average of 11.7 runs per game. The Lady Raiders are also seeing the ball well at the plate, as they have proven to be a power-hitting team. Of the 24 games played in 2018, Richmond has tallied at least one home run in 22 of those games.

Furthermore, the green and gold have hit at least one home run in the last 14 straight games, with eight different Lady Raiders clearing the fence in that span. On the season, Richmond has collected 43 longballs, which is three short of tying the single-season team record of 46 set in 2004.

“It was good to see us come out hitting tonight to win the tournament,” Wallace said with a big smile. “We put a lot of hits and runs up early, and that can help put good teams like Jack Britt away. We didn’t want to be in a one-run game all night, which gives your opponent confidence and would have put (unwanted) pressure on us.

“Taylor (Parrish) is staying hot for us, getting some big hits lately with runners in scoring position,” Wallace continued. “Owen (Bowers) had a great at-bat tonight where she battled and fouled off several pitches and then she hit it out. I like to see our hitters do that -- they’re staying aggressive and hitting all different types of pitches well.”

Junior ace Greyson Way made her 24th consecutive start in the circle this season, and battled illness during the SAC championship. But she didn’t seem bothered by it, as she pitched a complete game, struck out 10 Jack Britt batters while giving up seven hits and just two earned runs.

Richmond jumped on the board first in the home half of the opening inning, a mantra that Wallace has preached all season. Senior catcher Owen Bowers, who has started every game for the Lady Raiders since her freshman year, launched a solo shot to straightaway center field in the second at-bat of the inning. In the 10-pitch at-bat, she fouled off six pitches before sending a full-count Carlie Myrtle pitch over the fence.

“It felt good to hit that home run and I was surprised at first because I didn’t think it was going out,” Bowers said, noting that Myrtle’s pitch was off-speed. “I’m very happy that we came together tonight and really stepped on the gas. We hit the ball really well and didn’t let them come back.”

Owen Bowers (14) is greeted at home plate by her teammates after her first-inning solo home run.

Bowers led the Lady Raiders at the dish, going 3-for-4 with a homer, two singles, two runs scored and an RBI. Richmond netted 10 total hits off Myrtle, who has pitched in all three games against Richmond this season, making it the 10th straight game for the Lady Raiders that they had at least 10 hits on the stat sheet.

After Bowers’ home run in the first, Richmond would keep the scoring going, adding two runs in the second inning, three runs in the third and a single run in the fourth to go up 7-0. Junior Taylor Parrish, who Wallace has noted as having “quietly” made a dent all season, led off the second with a high chopper past third baseman Savannah Rodney. In the next at-bat, freshman Paige Ransom powered the first pitch she saw to the opposite field, clearing the right-center fence for her team-leading ninth dinger of the season.

Parrish and Ransom both finished with two RBIs on the night, which was the most of any player on either team.

In the third inning, Bowers and Way led off by sending balls flying past the left side of the infield for back-to-back singles. After Myrtle recorded a strikeout, it was sophomore Kayla Hawkins who delivered with an RBI double to center field, scoring Bowers. WIth courtesy runner Kenzie Webb standing on third for Way, and Hawkins at second, Parrish added to the score by rocketing a hard ground ball under Jessica McRae’s diving glove at shortstop, scoring both runners.

Way faced a tough spot in the top of the fourth inning, allowing singles to Myrtle and McRae to put two on with two outs. But she got out of the jam and kept the Lady Bucs off the scoreboard with a big-time strikeout of Kassady Hardee.

Helping her cause, Way would score fellow junior Savannah Lampley in the bottom of the fourth inning with a screamer down the third base line that rolled to the left-field corner for an RBI double off relief pitcher Mackenzie George. It would be the last run Richmond would score, but it was more than enough.

Jack Britt would raise some eyebrows in the packed crowd in the sixth and seventh innings, when Myrtle and Hardee each hit solo shots to make it 7-2.  Hardee’s came in the first at-bat of the seventh, but Way settled down and collected a lineout, flyout and strikeout against the next three batters to give Richmond the win and secure it some hardware.

“Greyson battled through her illness tonight,” Wallace said of her premiere ace. “She came in and made sure she drank a lot of water and was really focused. She hit her spots early and kept (Jack Britt) off balance for the first five innings. They’re a great hitting team, and they started barreling the ball up better late in the game, and we expected that. Luckily we had scored some runs early to give Greyson a cushion.”

Richmond has flip-flopped with fellow 4A team Fuquay-Varina for the top spot in the 4A classification this season. But after jumping ahead in the final rankings heading into the state playoffs, Richmond is currently projected to be the No. 1 overall seed in the tournament, as well as the No. 1 seed in the western bracket.

With the top spot comes the reward of getting a first-round bye, which means that Richmond will have about a week off before facing off against a lower-seeded opponent in the second round. The NCHSAA has not released its official bracket at this time.

The other goal set forth by Wallace and the Lady Raiders at the onset of the 2018 campaign was to win the program’s first state title. They have progressively made it farther and farther in the state playoffs the last couple of seasons, with last year’s run coming up short at the hands on now 3A opponent North Davidson High School in the semifinal round.

In the time off before her team’s next game, Wallace said she’ll take this time to fine-tune some fundamentals in hopes of winning it all.

“The confidence is big for us right now,” Wallace concluded. “We’re playing well, we’re hitting the ball well and Greyson is throwing the ball well. We looked better on defense tonight. We just want to stay aggressive at the plate and keep our confidence high heading into the playoffs.

“We have several days to work on stuff, one of which is bunting,” she added. “We haven’t been in many situations this year where we’ve had to bunt because we’ve hit the ball so well. We’re going to run up against teams with better pithing, so we may have to bunt in situations to score some runs using small-ball. We need to work on hitting off-speed pitching. If we want to win a state championship, we have to work on not being a one-dimensional team.”

“We’re going to try keeping our mentality the same way it is right now, but keep working hard in practice,” Bowers said, as this is her last rodeo before heading to Fort Myers, Fla., to play at Florida SouthWestern State College in the fall. “We need to take every game seriously because every game is a one-and-done situation.”

The ROSports department wants to congratulate the Lady Raiders for their success, and wishes them luck in the state playoffs.

Kyle Pillar

Sports Editor. IUP communications media and journalism alumni. English teacher, Ninth Grade Academy.

Submit local sports scores to: kpillar@richmondobserver.com

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