HOLLY SPRINGS — When Holly Springs catcher Stephanie Ledek crossed home plate with the game-winning run in the bottom the eighth inning Friday in a 4-3 victory over Athens Drive, it may have appeared as if nothing had changed since last year for the Golden Hawks softball team.
First-year head coach Mackenzie Mangum knows nothing could be further from the truth.
Holly Springs graduated several players from the two-time defending Eastern Region 4A champions, including all-state pitcher Erica Nunn, who is now playing college ball at South Florida.
Nunn dominated in high school, allowing the Golden Hawks to escape a few fielding miscues or missed opportunities behind the batters’ box.
Not so this season, as the young Holly Springs team must rely on near flawless defense and will have to get hits and score more runs if they hope to achieve some of the success of the past two seasons.
“Losing girls like Erica, Jenna (Firestein) and Kristen (Krebs) were big losses,” said Mangum, whose Golden Hawks have evened their record at 2-2 after beginning the season with two losses. “We absolutely have to be stronger defensively and we have to get hot with the bats in order to score more runs this season to be successful.
“We are definitely playing a different game of softball.”
Mangum, who led the junior varsity team the past two years, took over for Jill Munchick. Ledek, Abby Snidemiller, Katelyn Hillesland and lone senior Ka’la Jordan are returning players who were a part of last year’s team, but Mangum is also very familiar with the players who have moved up from the junior varsity squad.
Second baseman Lindsay Mitchell, who had the game-winning hit Friday, is one of those players, along with winning pitcher Ashton Jones, a freshman who shows a lot of promise.
“We have a new pitcher named Ashton, she’s a freshman but she is really good,” said Jordan, who just joined the team after helping to lead the Golden Hawks girls’ basketball team on its deepest playoff run ever. “As a team I think we’re pretty decent and can still go far.”
Jones will split time in the circle with Snidemiller, who started Friday against the Jaguars. Neither will likely match the strikeout marks set by Nunn, but Ledek – the new catcher who was a contributor to last year’s state runner-up team – understands this group will have to handle things differently than in the past.
“The defense is going to have to work a lot harder this year,” said Ledek, “but I’m hoping if our whole team steps up we can be just as good as last year’s.”
When Holly Springs began the season with losses to both Cary and Panther Creek there was definitely concern, but Mangum viewed it as more of a wake-up call.
“That first game we played, whew, I hope it lit a fire under them a little bit,” Mangum said. “We took what we learned during those first two games, practiced on the mistakes, and it seemed to work the last two games.
“I just want them to play hard every game and to play together as a team.”