05/15/07 — Longwell feels team is prepared

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Longwell feels team is prepared

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on May 15, 2007 1:49 PM


News-Argus Sports Writer

Despite injuries and a late-season slump, Wayne Christian is in prime position to contend for the 2007 N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association Class 1-A softball championship.

And the third-seeded Eagles have an added incentive. A win today over sixth-seeded Pungo Christian Academy guarantees them homefield advantage for this weekend's final four.

"I believe I have the girls ready now for this tournament," said veteran Wayne Christian coach Roger Longwell.

In today's other first-round games, seventh-seeded Northwood Temple is the guest of 2006 state runner-up Lawrence Academy; fifth-seeded Faith Christian-Rocky Mount travels to fourth-seeded Hobgood; and defending state champion Cape Fear -- the top seed -- is home against Ahoskie Ridgecroft.

The four winners meet Friday for a double-elimination tournament on the Wayne Christian campus. Because of lighting issues, games will be played at WCS and at the Nahunta Softball Complex on Highway 581.

The championship series begins at 10 a.m. Saturday.

Wayne Christian (14-5 overall) reeled off 12 consecutive wins before a five-inning loss to 2-A power Fayetteville Christian Academy. The Eagles also suffered a five-inning setback against Princeton and let county rival Rosewood slip away.

Longwell wondered if the team could recover from its injuries and regain its confidence as the Carolina Christian Conference tournament approached. He got his answer when the Eagles finished runner-up to nemesis Cape Fear in the CCC tournament final.

The only piece of the puzzle missing was Brittany Sullivan, who played sparingly with a leg injury. She's expected to take the field against Pungo.

"I think those losses strengthened us going into the conference tournament," said Longwell. "We are just about at full strength now."

Pungo (14-5) is making its second straight postseason appearance and fourth overall in the last five years. The Raiders compete in the Tarheel Independent Conference, which includes perennial powerhouse Lawrence -- the 2004 and 2005 state champion.

The Eagles qualified for the second straight year and claimed their first-ever playoff victory a year ago. They lost to Cape Fear and Lawrence in the final four.

"I like our seed this year," said Longwell.

Right-hander Traci Davis, again, emerged the Eagles' top pitcher this season. The Kinston High transfer compiled an 8-4 worksheet on the mound and threw a school-record four no-hitters. She has notched 128 strikeouts and allowed just 40 hits.

Cynthia Burroughs, Brittney O'Hara and Kayla Kennedy have also seen action in the pitcher's circle. Burroughs, who threw against Cape Fear in the CCC tournament championship, and O'Hara are a combined 3-1.

"Traci has been the instrumental, driving force getting us to the playoffs," said Longwell, whose team posted six shutouts this season. "Cynthia has just come off the injury list with a broken thumb. She is a lot stronger now and should be able to help on the mound during the playoffs this week."

Burroughs leads the team with a .410 batting average and on-base percentage of .610. She is one of eight Eagles who have 10 or more total hits heading into the playoffs.

Sullivan leads the team with 18 hits, followed by Davis (17), Burroughs (16) and Carly Hightower (15). Hightower has the team's lone home run. Overall, Wayne Christian has pounded out 134 hits, including 34 extra-base knocks, in 19 outings.

"I believe that if we come out here and play our game, we can win this tournament," said Longwell. "We have to put the ball in play, play sound defense and limit the errors. It's got to come from the girls' hearts, and they've got what it takes to win.

"I have a lot of talent on this team. I am proud of their accomplishments, and can't wait to see the outcome."