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Eagles enjoying return to NCISAA softball Final Four

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By SAMUEL EVERS
Sports Writer

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Last season, the Rocky Mount Academy softball team finished in uncharted territory with a couple of first-time-ever accomplishments. They won their first playoff game in program history and placed fourth overall in the NCISAA 2-A bracket.

This year, having already won their first ever playoff home game this past Tuesday in walkoff fashion, they’ll look to take things a step further.

As a part of the state’s final four once again, they play at Fayetteville Freedom Christian Academy at noon. They’ll have a second game after that today as well, but the time and opponent depends on whether they win or lose against FCA. It’s a double-elimination style bracket to decide the state title winner.

“I’m really happy with what we’ve accomplished,” coach Chuck Braswell said on Thursday. “The kids have worked hard, spent time in the cages. They’ve been doing the little things it takes, and they deserve everything they’ve got.”

Now at 15-4 and three wins away from a state title, they started preseason with a set of goals: to win the conference, to host and win a playoff game, and to see how far they could go once the first two were accomplished.

Of course, said Braswell, Casey Jones, who will play next spring at NCAA Division I UNC-Wilmington, has been a major part of the Eagles’ success, but they’ve had a reliable pitcher in Ashley Wright (10 wins, 3.42 ERA) and a perfect leadoff hitter in freshman Elizabeth Winstead, a role they were without last season.

“She’s been a tablesetter all year, the leadoff batter we’ve been hoping for, and the exciting part about that is we have three more years of her,” Braswell said.

On Tuesday, after Concord First Assembly tied the game entering the bottom of the seventh, Winstead got on with an infield hit to start the inning and scored on a double to win the game.

For the season, her on-base percentage is an impressive .701 to go with a .643 batting average. She has 36 hits with 11 walks.

“That was absolutely one of the missing links,” said Braswell of the leadoff spot. “We did not have a true leadoff batter last year.”

After the game against Freedom Christian Academy (14-6), the No. 2 seed, RMA, the third seed, will await the winner of No. 1 seed Fayetteville Christian School (19-1) and No. 4 Arendell Parrott Academy (9-8).

If the Eagles win one of those two games, they’ll play again on Saturday with a shot at a state title. In preparation, the team had a light practice on Thursday. The vibe was laid back, Braswell said, just as the morning trip to Fayetteville will be.

“We’re leaving bright and early. We’re going to have a good time along the way, just stay loose and enjoy the moment because a lot of other teams would love to be in our position,” he said. “We’ll see how it goes. Who knows, maybe we can win it all.”

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