When the Princeton softball team takes on North Stanly this weekend in the N.C. High School Athletic Association 1A softball state championship series, it will be the closest the program has come to winning the title since advancing to the final four in 2011.
Despite this postseason run being the furthest the currentBulldogs has ventured into the playoffs, that doesn’t mean Princeton will enter the series without some championship experience.
As members of the volleyball team, Beth Braswell, Taylor Carroll, Kortney Edwards, Kelsey Peedin, Emily Ricks and Hailey Wood have been to the state championship each of the past two years, winning in 2014.
For Carroll, who will play softball at Pitt Community College, bringing a softball title to Princeton – the school’s first in the sport – would be a perfect end to her senior season.
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“It would mean everything to have a state championship in volleyball and softball – it would mean the world to us,” Carroll said. “We’ve never had one in softball so this would be the first and it was the first for volleyball so to do it again would be amazing.”
Along with Carroll, seniors Kelsey Peedin and Hailey Wood will also continue to play softball in college at North Carolina A&T and Appalachian State, respectively.
For as long as they can remember, the dream of winning a state championship in softball has always been a part of what has driven them.
“Ever since I was little, I’ve always wanted to win a state championship in softball and to go play Division 1 ball,” said Wood. “Two years ago, I committed to play D1 ball. To end my year with a state championship in softball would be the icing on top of the cake.”
The Bulldogs will hope to translate their teammates’ experiences playing in a state championship game to being ready to take on the Comets, the fifth-seeded team out of the West.
After losing Game 2 of the East regional series at North Duplin, coming just one out away from being no-hit, Princeton players admitted feeling “tense” and not ready to play. The players knew they needed to change their mindset before the third and deciding game of the series.
After the team had a bonding session hours before the series finale, a looser, more relaxed bunch of Bulldogs belted out eight hits on their way to the 7-0 Game 3 victory.
Kelsey Peedin feels it’s a lesson learned that will be helpful for Princeton this weekend.
“We’ll know what to expect,” Peedin said. “I think we’ve just got to go out there with faith like we did tonight.”
Carroll feels knowing how to stay calm under the pressure of the moment is something she can transfer over from her state title game experiences in volleyball.
“The intensity is going to be a lot but since we’ve been there before, I feel like it’s going to be a little easier,” Carroll said. “We’re going to feel more relaxed knowing that we’ve been through something like that.”
As is the case for most champions, the drive to succeed comes almost as much from past defeats as it does past victories.
For the seniors – Carroll, Peedin and Wood, falling in the state title game this past year in volleyball and not defending their state title has the Bulldogs hungry for more.
“In volleyball, we had a great year but we came up a little short in the end,” Wood said. “So us seniors, we’re hungry for a state championship and we’ve brought that drive out here.
“In all the underclassmen, we’ve instilled in them what we want them to have and they stood up to the standard and we’re hoping that we can win one next weekend.”
The softball team has racked up 77 wins over the past four seasons, gone 44-2 in the Carolina 1A Conference and advanced to at least the fourth round of the state playoffs in three of those years.
NCHSAA 1A State Softball Championship Series
at N.C. State’s Dail Softball Stadium
Game 1, Friday: North Stanly vs. Princeton, 6
Game 2, Saturday: Princeton vs. North Stanly, 11 a.m.
Game 3 (if needed), Saturday: North Stanly vs. Princeton, 5