Stepping Up: High hopes for Pam Pack spring athletes

Published 9:14 pm Tuesday, February 21, 2017

There’s an excitement in the air at Washington. Yes, the Lady Pack is fresh off of its trip to Clinton for the first round of the 2-A state basketball playoffs, but the waning basketball season also means that spring sports are just around the corner.

Optimism is abundant for the Pam Pack baseball, softball and girls’ soccer teams. The 2016 campaigns ended in heartbreak for two of those teams. May 10, 2016 was a historic day for Washington athletics. All three teams hosted first-round playoff games on the same day.

Only the softball team advanced. South Columbus torched Washington for four two-out runs in the fifth inning of the first-round baseball tilt, and East Duplin scored a last-second goal to break a 1-1 tie and upset the Lady Pack.

It was disappointing to see two teams that were at least somewhat favored get dismissed from the postseason quickly. This season appears promising for both groups.

The girls’ soccer team graduated just two players from a team that steamrolled through the 2-A Eastern Plains Conference. Sydney Edwards, whose 20 goals ranked second behind Jordan Prescott (23), will be one of the team’s senior leaders. Berenice Chavez scored 16 goals and assisted on 15 more last year as a freshman. She will look to take the next step.

As a whole, Washington returns four players that scored at least 16 goals. On paper, coach Ed Rodriguez seems to have bolstered the Lady Pack’s non-conference schedule, perhaps in an attempt to prepare the team for what it may encounter in the playoffs. Conference competition didn’t test Washington much last season, which may have contributed to the first-round exit.

The baseball team is similar in a lot of ways. Neill Jennings and Logan Winstead are the only players to have graduated from last year’s squad. The entire Pam Pack pitching staff returns with a significant amount of added experience.

Washington finished in the middle of the EPC standings a year ago. It begins this season with a strong non-conference stretch that features a 4-A school in Rose and quality 1-A clubs in Riverside and Northside. The Pam Pack will also see future conference foes Ayden-Grifton and South Lenoir — both of which are traditionally strong on the diamond — before it opens league competition at Farmville Central in a month.

The softball season ended in some heartbreak, too, but it wasn’t because of getting knocked out of the playoffs early. The Lady Pack advanced all the way to the 2-A regional championship for the first time in program history. The girls ran into eventual state champion South Granville and lost both meetings in the three-game series by one run.

It was especially disheartening for seniors Sarah Alligood, Chrissy McKissick and Style McKissick. Hailey Harris, then a junior, took the loss hard, too, as many pitchers do.

Losing three players of that caliber will be a challenge to overcome, but this Lady Pack squad has been waiting for this season since its regional-championship elimination. The McKissicks will be missed for their all-around talent and leadership. They were coaches on the field, consistent bats and reliable defensively.

That said, there are players ready to step up. Summer Campbell showed glimpses of brilliance during her freshman campaign, as did then-sophomore Mary B. Dixon. The likes of Harris, Meghan Moore, Briley Waters and Sarah Lynch will lead a team consisting of nine seniors.

The talent is there, and so is the experience. The Lady Pack nearly made it all the way a year ago. These girls will do whatever it takes to build on that this time around.