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N.C. Wesleyan softball in race for USA South title

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By JESSIE H. NUNERY
Sports Editor

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

The preseason poll might have only served as a little motivation, but barring a collapse, the USA South softball predictions taken late in the winter were wrong.

Coach John Brackett's N.C. Wesleyan squad is better than the middle-of-the-road label put on it when the Bishops were predicted to finish sixth in the league.

With two weeks remaining, the Battling Bishops are showing few weaknesses, and they currently are tied for first place in the standings entering the most important stretch of the season.

"We as coaches, we certainly thought we'd be higher than that," Brackett said of the preseason poll. "We're just really in a good place right now. Everything is working well for us. We're blessed with three outstanding pitchers, we're hitting the ball and putting it all together, and that's going to add up to a lot of wins."

N.C. Wesleyan (16-8, 8-2 USAS) recently finished a six-game weekend stretch with a 5-1 record. Senior outfielder Katilyn Checkan was named the conference's player of the week after hitting .636 (7-for-11) with two home runs, five RBI, 10 runs scored and 11 walks.

Checkan, a senior, opened the season hitting toward the bottom of the lineup, but has thrived recently in the leadoff spot.

"She did a tremendous job before being moved up, but now she is drawing walks and being very disciplined at the plate," Brackett said. "She's our rock in centerfield and is very deserving of the award."

Contributions are coming from everywhere. Northern Nash graduate Shelby Godwin, Logan Lowery and freshman Beth Braswell are keeping opponents off the basepaths. The trio has combined for 149 strikeouts in 150.1 innings pitched.

"They all want the ball, and we play doubleheaders, so only two can start," Brackett said. "I guess that is a good problem to have. Last weekend we played back-to-back-to-back, and we can do that because we have the pitching. I'm not sure anyone feels the way we do. We feel we have three starters. In my biased opinion, we have the best pitching staff in the conference."

The Bishops have seven seniors, but they also have 13 freshmen—which is the largest incoming class Brackett has every brought into the program. Many of them aren't just playing long-toss prior to the games.

Brackett, who recently earned his 500th career victory, said the team used 14 different starters during a recent doubleheader, and there currently are platoons being used at first base, third base, right field and left field.

If the Bishops can keep things going, they'll have earned a strong finish. Thursday's home game is against former conference foe Christopher Newport, which is ranked No. 6 in the country.

Down the stretch, they'll play Pfieffer—which at one point was ranked No. 2 in the country in Division II last season—and Salem, the team which shares the league's top spot with the Bishops.

"I feel like we've got a pretty good vibe going, everything is positive," Brackett said. "We're in a good place right now, not only on the field, but mentally and emotionally. Our upperclassmen have led this team, and we've really got it together. We have to keep it going, but we're as ready as we're going to be."

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