Prior to 2017 season, the Richmond Senior softball team had gotten close but never experienced a three-game series in the Regional Finals of the NCHSAA 4A State Playoffs.
In 2014, the Lady Raiders blanked both Clayton and Jack Britt in the opening rounds and then took down Ashley in the third round. They would battle throughout the extra innings but eventually fall to Cape Fear in the fourth round of the state playoffs.
Richmond would make it to the fourth round again in 2015, following home wins over South Mecklenburg, Scotland and Olympic in the first three rounds. It couldn’t extend the win streak once it hit the road, however, dropping a 5-2 decision at South Caldwell.
In 2016, the softball program looked to break the “fourth-round jinx” after it earned a victory over Alexander Central — three-time state champion since 2011 — in the third round, but a meeting with eventual state champion Brooke Perry and the West Forsyth Lady Titans ended its hopes.
The Lady Raiders made sure there was no fourth-round exit this past season, however, as their win over Mooresville helped them reach the Final Four for the first time in program history.
Thanks to a 21-4 overall record throughout the regular season and conference tournament, Richmond earned a No. 1 seed in the Midwest bracket of the state playoffs.
It would dominate its first-round matchup against North Mecklenburg from start to finish.
The Lady Raiders totaled 15 hits in the 13-0 victory, with Owen Bowers’ three hits — which included a two-run homer in the second inning — leading the way. Six other players finished with two hits and Mackenzie Ward threw a no-hitter from the circle.
Jadyn Johnson’s fifth-inning grand slam highlighted Richmond’s 6-3 win over Providence in the second round. Providence would score three runs in the top of the sixth in order to cut it close, but NaLee Jacobs’ two-run homer in the bottom of the inning sealed the deal.
Jacobs would come up big again in the third round, against Davie County, when she stepped in for Ward in the seventh inning and retired the opposing batters in order. She also had the team’s only RBI in the 5-2 victory.
Another double-digit hitting performance helped Richmond to a shutout win over Mooresville, as seven Lady Raiders combined for 11 hits. Kayla Hawkins hit a solo home run and Greyson Way finished with three RBI, while Johnson and Tori Mabe each recorded one RBI.
That win finally pushed Richmond over the hump and into its first-ever Final Four appearance, but that would be its last victory. The team fell to North Davidson in two games in the Western Regional Finals.
In Game 1, the Lady Raiders held a one-run lead after four innings due to RBI singles from both Bowers and Savannah Lampley and an RBI double from Hawkins. North Davidson would explode for nine runs on 12 hits over the next three innings, however, and grab an 11-4 victory.
In Game 2, Richmond battled down to the game’s final pitch, which was a changeup thrown by North Davidson’s Katie McNeill that gave Bowers her third strike — and Richmond its third and final out. The Lady Raiders ended their season with a 2-1 loss on the road.
WHAT WAS SAID
“They’ve seen what Western Finals pitching looks like. They’ve got that experience and they know what to expect…They’re not satisfied with where we finished this year, which is going to make them want to come out, work even harder and get back there again next year.” — Wendy Wallace, head softball coach
The Lady Raiders have finished with more than 20 wins for the last five seasons and look to continue that kind of success.
Richmond returns three of its five All-SEC selections from this past season in Bowers, Lampley and Way — the team’s top-three bats in 2017. Way will be taking over pitching duties now that Jacobs and Ward have graduated.
With the recent defeat in the Regional Finals still fresh on their minds, the Lady Raiders will use the next eight months to prepare for another deep run in the postseason. But next time, they want to win a state championship.
Reach sports editor Leon Hargrove Jr. at 910-817-2673 and follow the sports section on Twitter @RCDailySports.
Savannah Lampley, pictured above, and the Richmond Senior softball team reached the Western Regional Finals for the first time in school history this past season. The Lady Raiders defeated North Mecklenburg, Providence, Davie County and Mooresville in the first four rounds of the state playoffs before falling to North Davidson in two games.