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Lopsided games mean more work to be done for Gryphons softball

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Rocky Mount High’s Courtney Coley gets in a few extra swings after practice on Wednesday at Rocky Mount High School. Coley is a three-year varsity starter who made the switch from third base to shortstop this season.

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By PATRICK MASON
Sports Writer

Thursday, March 15, 2018

A puddle of standing water behind home plate turned the infield dirt on the softball field at Rocky Mount High into a form of quicksand.

Coach Koron Nickelson’s shoes were caked in mud as he worked on bunt defense with his players on Wednesday. What was supposed to be gameday turned into a makeshift practice as the Gryphons’ home game against former Big East Conference rival Nash Central was washed out.

RMH (2-1) has been used to postponed games due to poor weather this spring. And the Gryphons aren’t alone, as losing games in the spring is nothing new for teams, which turn to practices to improve. The Gryphons are a young team in need of games to play, both to help decipher the best fits for a young roster that has taken on new positions in the field and in the lineup, as well as to work out mistakes at game speed.

“We need to be smart,” said Courtney Coley, a senior. “We’re working on baserunning and trying to minimize our errors. The errors on defense caused so many runs, but on offense we do pretty good. It will take more reps in games, but a lot of it is mental and knowing what to do. All of that will grow as the season goes on.”

Coley, a three-year varsity starter, moved from third base to shortstop, and is batting third, a bump from the middle of the order. Coley stayed after practice on Wednesday to work on her hitting, and she smashed pitch after pitch into the outfield.

Coley wasn’t joking about the offense looking strong throughout the first three games, despite the small sample size. The Gryphons were posting scores better fit for the football team. They beat North Pitt, 33-23, to open the season, then beat Southeast Raleigh, 21-19, three days later.

A 19-3 loss to Tarboro High last week highlighted the defensive miscues that Coley hopes will become fewer and fewer once games become more regular. And her shift to shortstop could help with that.

“Basically the big thing is moving my feet more to get behind the ball,” Coley said. “I’ll stay after practice to work on backhands. Sometimes it’s a long throw at short, and sometimes I need to cover third like during bunt coverages. I was used to crashing, and now I have to cover a base.”

While Coley guides a young team on defense, freshman Caroline Joyner has emerged as a player to watch this season, and hopes to be a building block for future Gryphons teams.

Joyner is one of six freshmen on the roster and will be a key cog for the Gryphons in the circle this season. She pitched in middle school and the plan is to have Joyner toss a bulk of the innings this spring.

“She will play a big role for us,” Nickelson said.

Joyner never played travel ball but did learn the game from a pair of older sisters. She enjoyed softball enough to play during her seventh and eighth grade years, before holding down a spot on the varsity roster.

“I picked up pitching from my sisters,” Joyner said. “Just out in the yard and stuff. It’s a big change playing at the high school level, but I think I’m doing pretty good.”

Her biggest goal is to improve her accuracy on pitches, while increasing her repertoire of pitches is something that she will address in the future.”

The Gryphons are back in action when they travel to Spring Creek for a nonconference road game at 6 p.m. on Thursday.

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