06/12/18 — PREP SOFTBALL: Goldsboro softball team clinches 1st-ever playoff berth in program history

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PREP SOFTBALL: Goldsboro softball team clinches 1st-ever playoff berth in program history

By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on June 12, 2018 5:51 AM



"Can we just get healthy?"

Head coach TJ Lancaster asked himself that question after injury- and sickness-riddled Goldsboro High started 1-5 on the softball diamond this spring.

Granted, the Cougars played some traditionally-strong and vastly-improved teams -- four of which advanced to the postseason.

"Those six games were against good competition...tough," Lancaster said. "I was playing girls out of position. Our starting catcher [Abby Allen] was out for the first six games."

Then came Clinton.

Goldsboro labored for six innings to corral the Dark Horses.

Mental and physical mistakes nearly took their toll until the Cougars caught a couple of breaks. The good fortune translated to a 4-2, eight-inning road win.

Renewed by the comeback, Goldsboro caught fire and triumphed in nine of its final 13 regular-season games.

The reward?

The program's first-ever playoff berth.

"I knew coming into this conference that we had a shot with the new playoff system," Lancaster said. "It was there for the taking if we could do it. [But] you've got to play the game to see what happens.

"They really stepped forward and took control, especially when the conference season started."

So, was Clinton -- the third game on the East Central 2-A slate -- a signature win?

How about Wallace-Rose Hill?

The Bulldogs thrashed the Cougars in mercy-rule fashion a year ago. Lancaster's club exacted its revenge in the same manner in late March.

Others say it was Southern Wayne.

Goldsboro beat the Saints for the first time in program history in mid-April.

Regardless, Lancaster and his coaching staff watched the team play with verve, intensity and confidence.

"They understood that when we play at our potential and at our best, we can play and beat anyone on any given day," Lancaster said.

Still, Lancaster dangled the carrot.

"I kept telling them to keep playing hard so we can make the playoffs, but I already knew with three games left that we were probably going to make it with the new system," Lancaster said.

Goldsboro finished 9-10 overall and drew an opening-round game at unbeaten Providence Grove. The Cougars returned home with a loss, but finally tasted that long-awaited sweet nectar called the postseason.

They accomplished the feat with no seniors on the roster.

Allen -- along with all-ECC picks Amber Pfennig and Taylor Lane -- have travel ball experience. The rest is a mixture of girls who love to play softball.

It's a far different scene than 11 years ago.

The weeds and crawling grass have been replaced by a smooth dirt infield. Renovated dugouts and a storage shed are the latest improvements.

Lancaster no longer finds himself teaching a girl to throw and catch. Instead, he's been blessed with a handful of players who display a solid work ethic and expect to set the standard for future teams who don the maize-and-old blue uniforms.

"[First-ever playoff berth] is something they can always hang their hat on and keep it as a point of pride because they've done something that no else has every done in school history," Lancaster said.

"That's one of those moments that you'll always remember."

Until next season.