ROCKINGHAM — Pitching and defense wins championship.
That is what Rockingham Ponytails coach Matthew Liles has relied on through the district and state tournaments. He is hoping to continue those strong performances during the Dixie Softball World Series in Hartsville, South Carolina.
The tournament is scheduled to begin today at 6 p.m. when the Florida state champions face the Mississippi state champions. At the same time, Georgia and South Carolina will square off. Rockingham, the North Carolina state champions, will take on the host team, Hartsville, in the nightcap at 8 p.m.
Liles has used three pitchers — Jadyn Johnson, Ragan Liles and Paige Ransom — to make the run to the World Series. Over this period, the trio has limited the opposition to six runs.
“Our pitching should keep us in every game, but we will need our bats to win them,” Liles said. “I don’t foresee any team destroying us.”
Liles believes it could have received an advantage to have drawn Hartsville in the opening game. He said that is because Hartsville automatically qualified for the World Series as the host team and didn’t have to battle through the district or state tournaments.
However, Liles cautioned that his team can’t overlook Hartsville because “you don’t know what to expect.”
“I will be anxious until that first pitch in the first game,” Liles said.
While Liles may be nervous, he said his players don’t seem to be this week. He said they have had a good week of preparation for the World Series, rather it be in the 100 degree temperatures or the rain.
“These girls have practiced hard,” Liles said. “I think they’re ready.”
Liles said a good amount of the practices have been centered on helping the players understand their roles in certain situations offensively and defensively.
“We have tried to get them ready for what they’ll face,” Liles said. “The focus has been on making a play in their head before the ball is pitched and hit to them. We want them to think about what they are going to do if the ball is hit to them.”
Five members of the Ponytails team captured a World Series championship as members of the Rockingham Angels squad three years ago. After winning the state title last week in Troy, Liles talked about how those players’ experience would be a benefit in the drive for another crown.
“We talked about it after practice,” Liles said. “I remember the Angels team was always behind against the Georgia team and we ended up winning the game on a double by a girl who I moved down in the lineup.
“I told them we are looking for leaders. We will face some adversity and we will need leaders that will lift the team up. It might not be the one who plays the most. It could be one who plays the least.”
Reach managing editor Shawn Stinson at 910-817-2671 and follow him on Twitter @scgolfer.