ROCKINGHAM — The road to the baseball and softball championships will start in Rockingham.
Well at least it will for Richmond Senior and its two opponents.
The baseball team will begin its march to a state title at 6 p.m. today against West Johnston at Raider Stadium. Richmond’s softball squad will wait a day and begin the playoffs 6 p.m. Wednesday at home versus Clayton.
Richmond and West Johnston are no strangers to each other in the postseason. Last season, the Raiders downed the Wildcats 3-1 in the second round. It was the third victory for Richmond against West Johnston in 2013, having swept the regular season series 4-1 and 9-0.
Richmond (17-6-1) had an opportunity to get a sneak peek at this year’s West Johnston team, but the game originally scheduled for March 8 was rained out. Richmond coach Ricky Young and first-year West Johnston coach Joey Worley moved the contest to March 29. Once again Mother Nature refused to cooperate, forcing Young and Johnston to cancel the game.
The Wildcats are 14-7 on the season and finished fourth in the Greater Neuse River Conference with an 8-6 mark. The team lost 10 players from last year’s team.
“They play good baseball up there,” Young said. “They will be well-coached and will be solid fundamentally.”
Young said even though Worley is in his first season as head coach, he expects West Johnston to keep the same philosophies former coach Mike Jacobs had during his tenure.
“I think they will play a lot of small ball like we do,” Young said. “They will be aggressive on the bases like we are. They will bunt runners over. Joey was on the staff last year, I don’t think they will change a lot.”
With a schedule dotted with 13 schools headed to the NCHSAA playoffs, Young believes his team is prepared for another deep run.
“We see good pitching in our conference,” Young said. “I think it has helped us the last two years.”
The winner of tonight’s matchup will face either D.H. Conley (15-7) or Jack Britt (16-10) in the second round.
On the other side of campus, Wendy Wallace and her team will get another day of practice before opening the postseason.
Wallace admitted she doesn’t have a lot of information about the Comets (12-7) but knows they play in a difficult conference — the Greater Neuse River. Clayton returns 10 players from last season’s team that went 15-5 and advanced to the third round.
Richmond (25-0) has been knocked out of the playoffs by a team from the GNR the last two years. After beating Harnett Central in the opener last season, Richmond was eliminated by West Johnston 2-1. In 2012, Garner took out Richmond in the second round also by the score of 2-1.
“They are a solid defensive team,” Wallace said. “We are going to have to hit the ball. We are going to have to go into the game with a disciplined approach at the plate.”
Wallace noted Clayton knocked off Garner this season. This was the only conference loss for Garner.
“Their conference was pretty tight,” Wallace said. “They are capable of beating any team on a given day. We have to play like we are capable of.”
Either Richmond or Clayton will take on the winner of the New Bern (14-5) and Jack Britt (13-8) clash in the second round.
Reach sports editor Shawn Stinson 910-997-3111, ext. 14 or on Twitter @scgolfer.