ROCKINGHAM — The Richmond softball team has been “chomping at the bit” to get back to the diamond after last year’s heart-breaking loss to North Davidson in the 4A Western Regional Finals.
So much so that head coach Wendy Wallace had to reel things in a bit when, recently, players eagerly talked about winning a state championship as their season goal. Winning the title is Wallace’s main objective as well, but she wants to make sure her team understands that making it past the fourth round of the state playoffs again isn’t guaranteed.
The team needs to work to improve in order to get another opportunity like that.
“That’s great (that we want to win a state championship), but what do we have to do to get there?” Wallace asked. “So we’ve built individual goals based on things we may have struggled with last year, and those will develop into our team goals.
“But yeah, they’re hungry and ready to roll. Losing in the Western finals last year didn’t sit well with them.”
Richmond returns, statistically speaking, the two biggest hitters to come through the program in senior catcher Owen Bowers and junior pitcher/infielder Greyson Way. The two combined for 24 homers last season and placed themselves in the program’s top spot for most home runs (22) in a career.
Wallace believes that with Bowers and Way at the No. 2 and 3 spots in the lineup, respectively, and junior infielder Savannah Lampley at the lead-off spot, she has the best 1-2-3 punch in the state. All three players already have committed themselves to playing college softball: Bowers (Florida SouthWestern), Lampley (UNC-Wilmington), Way (UNC-Greensboro).
“I’m glad they’re on my team and I don’t have to face them, that’s for sure,” she said with a laugh. “Those hitters, back to back to back, I don’t know of any other team in the state that has that.”
Now that the Lady Raiders are without NaLee Jacobs and Mackenzie Ward, their pitching duo from last season, Way takes on the responsibilty of being the team’s ace on the mound. It’ll be a new experience on the varsity level for the junior bomber, but she has been pitching for years and calmly displayed her potential when the team played in its first preseason scrimmage Wednesday afternoon.
In five innings, Way finished with 10 strikeouts and allowed only one hit in a 9-0 victory over Anson.
“Greyson knew as soon as we were done last year that she was going to be our No. 1 pitcher,” Wallace said. “She worked hard all summer, has been in the weight room and came back stronger … She’s ready for it. She’ll be fine.”
Another upperclassman stepping into a bigger role is senior outfielder Brianna Baysek, who had “a phenomenal season” in 2017 and is looking to fill the void left by Jacobs in the hitting rotation. Sophomores Kayla Hawkins — responsible for a 2-RBI double Wednesday — and Jadyn Johnson are expected to produce a little more at the plate as well.
“One through nine, compared to last year, I think we’ve got the ability to produce more consistently this year,” Wallace said.
But racking up more hits doesn’t mean Wallace hopes her players hit home runs every time one of them steps to the plate; at times last year, her team needed a bunt but couldn’t get one down.
So an area of emphasis for Richmond leading to the 2018 season has been learning how to handle the switch from its traditional home-run hitting style to playing small ball when the situations calls for it.
The team will also focus on reducing the number of strikeouts, which will help make the quest for a second consecutive undefeated run through regular-season conference play a bit easier.
“We’re all going to be fighting for that top spot in the conference. We’ve got to go out and beat good teams every night,” Wallace said. “Our pride every year is having good pitching and good defense. If we can take care of those two things, we’ll be able to take care of ourselves on offense.”
The Lady Raiders kick off their season with a home game versus Marlboro Academy (S.C.) next Wednesday, Feb. 28.
Reach sports editor Leon Hargrove Jr. at 910-817-2673 or [email protected] For stories, scores and updates, follow the Daily Journal’s sports section on Twitter @RCDailySports.