ROCKINGHAM — The Richmond softball team set the tone early, steadily built a lead and eventually claimed the inaugural Sandhills Athletic Conference Tournament Championship with a 7-2 victory over Jack Britt.
Friday night’s matchup was the third meeting between No. 1 Richmond (21-3) and No. 2 Jack Britt (18-5) this season, but it was the first time the Lady Raiders were able to get their bats going from the jump.
They hit a couple home runs that led to a three-run advantage after just two innings of play.
“Beating a team three times in a year, especially a good-hitting team like they are, that’s hard to do,” head coach Wendy Wallace said. “We knew going in this probably wasn’t going to be a one- or two-run ball game and that we needed to jump out early.”
Senior catcher Owen Bowers finished with a team-high three hits, in four at-bats, which included a solo shot as the team’s second batter in the bottom of the first inning. She battled through nearly a dozen pitches before lifting a pitch over the fence and giving the Lady Raiders a 1-0 advantage.
“That’s so big with a lot of our girls. They don’t give up and they stay focused,” said Wallace, who mentioned that a few batters have hit home runs this season after a lengthy battle with the opposing pitcher.
“That’s good leadership,” she added. “They’re seeing the ball well, staying aggressive and hitting good pitches.”
After junior infielder Taylor Parrish led off the second inning with a base hit, freshman outfielder Paige Ransom smacked a two-runner that put Richmond ahead 3-0. The home team’s lead blossomed to six runs in the bottom of the third after sophomore infielder Kayla Hawkins raked a RBI double and then Parrish brought in two runners after making contact.
Junior ace Greyson Way’s RBI double in the fourth was the Lady Raiders’ final run of the night. Both Way and Ransom finished with two hits on the night. Senior Bri Baysek picked up a single in the first inning.
“We came out hitting. It’s good to set the tone early like that,” Wallace said.
Jack Britt put runners on base in three of the first five innings but didn’t plate its first run until the top of the sixth inning, when freshman pitcher Carlie Myrtle blasted a two-out homer for her team-leading third hit of the night.
Senior infielder Kassady Hardee put pressure on the Richmond with a solo shot to lead off the seventh inning, but Way retired the next three Jack Britt batters (two fly balls and a strikeout) from the mound to put an end to the title game.
Way finished the matchup with 10 strikeouts, giving up two earned runs on seven hits in the process.
“She did a great job of hitting her spots and containing them. They started putting the bat on the ball better in the last couple of innings, but that’s a lot to what she did,” Wallace said of Way’s performance. “She was fighting through allergies, sinus infection — a bunch of gunk going on — but she battled through it and pitched well.”
Richmond, the top team in the 4A classification, expects to receive the No. 1 overall seed in the NCHSAA State Playoffs, but won’t know for sure until the brackets are released over the weekend.
Wallace says the team only has one thing on its mind: a state championship.
“That’s our goal. That’s what we said we wanted from the first day that we started practice,” she said. “We have to take it one game at a time and make sure we put all of our focus on who we’ve got to play first. We can’t overlook anybody.”
Reach sports editor Leon Hargrove Jr. by phone at 910-817-2673 or by email at [email protected] For stories, scores and updates, follow the Daily Journal’s sports section on Twitter @RCDailySports.