ROCKINGHAM — It’s like deja vu all over again.
Last season the Richmond Senior softball team advanced to the fourth round of the state 4A East Region and faced an undefeated Cape Fear squad on the road. The Colts came into the game with a 25-0 record and the Raiders set a school mark with 28 straight victories.
Cape Fear managed to inch past Richmond 2-1 in nine innings en route to making the state championship series, falling to Alexander Central.
This year, Richmond will once again hit the road for the fourth round at 7 p.m. today. Next up for Richmond is South Caldwell, the West Region’s top seed. The Spartans are 24-0, while the Raiders are 21-4.
Richmond coach Wendy Wallace said last season’s squad was almost destined to make it to the fourth round and the showdown with Cape Fear. She said this year’s team has advanced because of “a lot of hard work” in practice.
Richmond lost all-conference and all-state selections Ashton Davenport, Summer Jacobs, Hunter Parks, Jennifer Steen and Jessica Steen. Stepping into those roles this season are: Owen Bowers, Peyton Fann, Carleigh Haywood, NaLee Jacobs and Kelsey Mabe.
“The girls I have this year are very athletic,” Wallace said. “Last year we expected to make it as far as we did because of the experience we had. Overall, you can’t replace experience with five fresh players you had on your team for all of five minutes. They bring athleticism. Overall, we are much more athletic than we were last year.”
One member of last year’s team, Katie Satterfield, also an all-state pick, isn’t surprised to see the Raiders back in the fourth round.
“I don’t think it’s unexpected,” Satterfield said. “I think we are good enough to be here. I just know from here on out, I’m blessed to get this far. It’s the cherry on top for however far we go now.”
In the team’s 10-4 victory over Olympic Wednesday afternoon, Wallace used some of that athleticism to score early and put pressure on the opposition.
Leadoff hitter Mabe and No. 2 hitter Doodle Jacobs were able to set the table for Chelsea Davis and Satterfield. Mabe and Jacobs went a combined 7 of 8 and scored five runs. Satterfield and Davis had three and two runs batted in, respectively.
“Early on we want to try to put pressure on them from the get-go…to know we are ready to come out hungry and ready to put up runs early,” Wallace said. “I don’t want us to sit back in a 0-0 game, and for them to get hot. They score a lot of runs and a lot of their runs are off home runs. A home run can be a difference-maker. If we can score runs early, I think that will keep our confidence level up.
“We don’t want to get up there and get behind 4-0, 5-0 early. I don’t think we will. I think NaLee will do a good job on the mound. Hopefully, we will put up runs early.”
The winner of tonight’s clash will face either North Davidson or Alexander Central in the West Region final series. Wallace admits to advance this far takes having a good team and also a little good fortune.
“It takes luck…You have to take care of yourself and make the plays you are supposed to make,” Wallace said. “You get lucky when you don’t have to face an all-star team that is just jacked early on, that makes a difference. How the brackets laid out, I thought we got a pretty good layout for our brackets. I can’t complain at all, other than having to face Scotland in the second round.”
Wallace quickly pointed out that seeing the Scots again just a week after losing to them in the Southeastern Conference tournament championship game was a good thing and could serve as the catalyst to a state title.
“I think that really helped us. That gave us a lot of focus going into the second game that we were not going to lose to them,” Wallace said. “We knew what we had to do in order to beat them. I think it helped re-energize us and focus us and definitely made us better for the third and fourth round.
“You have to use those losses and learn from them. It kind of re-grounded us. We can’t just walk out onto the field and expect to win. We have to come out and play every day and not make errors and be able to push runs across. I think that sits in the back of their mind right now. If we leave runners on, we’re going to get beat. We can’t let missed opportunities beat us.”
Reach managing editor Shawn Stinson at 910-817-2671 and follow him on Twitter @scgolfer.