It took North Carolina Central’s softball team two years to win eight games after reclassifying to Division I.
The most wins the Eagles have in a season since 2008 are nine, which came during last year’s 9-35 record.
But now into her fourth season as head coach, Theresa Stephens believes her team may finally be turning a corner.
“They are coming together and working together as a unit,” Stephens said recently.
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The Eagles were 7-7 through last weekend. The team didn’t win seven games until April 26 of last year.
After opening losses to Delaware State and Nebraska at Omaha, NCCU defeated Virginia for its first ever victory over an ACC school. A revenge rematch win over the Hornets gave the Eagles a 2-2 record for the first time at DI. NCCU then won five of its next seven games, including five straight at one stretch.
Stephens credits the early turnaround to some good old-fashioned competition.
“What’s exciting about this team is we have some faces like Kayleigh Brueck, Casey Hargett and Demiree Briones helping the chemistry on this team, because they have the experience, and they bring a lot to this program,” she said. “And they bring extra competition. When we’re at practice, they are competing against each other. Anybody can go out there on any given day, and it comes down to who can hit the ball.”
Brueck is a Pitt Community College transfer who helped the Eagles sweep Pitt in a doubleheader in their season opener. But the NCAA doesn’t recognize wins against two-years colleges, so they don’t count in the standings.
Hargett, also from Pitt, is batting .404 with five RBIs and two home runs. Briones, a Southwestern Oregon Community College transfer, is hitting .280 with two home runs.
But the key to any successful softball or baseball season is pitching.
With a year under her belt, sophomore Dominique Wilson is the main man ... er, woman in the Eagles’ rotation. She has a 3.37 ERA and has struck out 37.
“The good thing about starting Dominique is it doesn’t give her time to think,” Stephens said. “She’s a thinker, which isn’t bad, but if things are falling apart behind her, it makes her nervous. Now, she’s a little bit more daring. I knew her sophomore year would be a good year for her.”
The Eagles play their home games at Parkwood Athletic Field.
NCCU’s baseball seeks more consistency
Like Stephens, baseball coach Jim Koerner also was hired in 2011. After winning an impressive 27 games in just his second year, NCCU dropped to 19 wins last season, one Koerner calls his most disappointing.
The Eagles did produce the MEAC Rookie of the Year in freshman infielder John Ortiz.
“He really surprised us all, and I expect him to have another great year,” Koerner said.
Returning this season from injury for a fifth season is third baseman Troy Morrow who is still finding his swing. Also back from injury is utility player Ronald Thompson who is fifth on the team in hitting at .267.
NCCU started 6-11 this season, getting quality wins over power clubs Gardner-Webb and Charleston Southern.
“We preach aggressiveness and everything we do is with an aggressive mindset, so you’re going to get an exciting team.”
Koerner said the key to a better season is consistency, which has been hard to come by as the team saw 11 of its first 14 games canceled or postponed due to weather.
“Last year we were up and down, and we need to be more consistent across the board as far as our defense goes,” Koerner said. “Having Troy back at third base means a lot, and we’re excited to have pitcher Jordan Quinn back as well to help anchor our rotation.”
NCCU plays its home games at the Durham Athletic Park.