Hickory Ridge has come a long way after only winning two games last season.
The Ragin' Bulls, behind catcher Kimberly Newton and pitcher Alexis Eudy, have made a significant turnaround from having one of the worst records in the South Piedmont Conference to becoming one of the top teams in the league.
Hickory Ridge coach Jessica Furlough admits that last year was disheartening for her team, but she adds that the results weren't due to a lack of talent.
"There were a lot of internal issues that they had with each other, so they weren't playing as a team-some girls weren't playing for Hickory Ridge, they were playing for themselves," she said.
"When that happens, things fall apart."
"We just didn't gel together," she said.
With turnover and new blood on the team, the Ragin' Bulls have a better attitude and are getting along better, which has shown on the softball field.
Hickory Ridge's top goal was to do better than last year's team, which finished with a disappointing 2-15 (2-12) record. The Bulls quickly achieved that by starting the season 3-0, defeating Mount Pleasant, which had mercy-ruled them in last year's meetings, along the way.
Their first loss came at the hands of Northwest Cabarrus, which was the only team to defeat them in March. Heading into this month, the 7-1 Bulls were in first place in the conference.
After dropping two games-to Central Cabarrus and East Rowan-to open April, they've won four of six games to bring their record to 11-5 (8-4 in the SPC).
Hickory Ridge, which was tied in first place before dropping a game to Jay M. Robinson last Thursday, has been in one of the top spots in the conference for most of the year. That's in large part to how Newton and Eudy have played.
Newton, a four-year varsity starter, has been more confident behind the plate after stressing out because of the team's woes last season.
"I'm more relaxed and having more fun because the team is doing well," said Newton, who's averaging a career-best .455 at the plate.
Eudy said she's noticed that change in her batterymate.
"If I throw a bad pitch, I'm always confident that she'll be able to stop it," she said.
Furlough said what makes Newton, who will play at Guilford College next season, stand out is her dedication to the sport.
"Newt probably sleeps with a softball," she said. "She's very passionate about the game - she really loves it."
Eudy is also having a much better year. She admits she doubted herself last season when the team struggled.
"It kind of made me feel like I wasn't very good," she said.
Eudy has started out her junior campaign by recording a 2.43 ERA and 54 strikeouts in 80 2/3 innings pitched (as of April 20). She's 10-3 on the mound.
Furlough said she knows she can rely on her pitcher.
"She's not going to go out there and pitch 15 strikeouts, but that's not what wins games," said Furlough. "She puts the ball very consistently over the plate."
Eudy is also contributing on the offensive end, having driven in 11 runs heading into last week's game against Jay M. Robinson.
Hickory Ridge has also had help from junior Julia Sanders and sophomore Jessica Hagler at the plate.
The Ragin' Bulls head into the final week of the regular season still in contention, but will need help from other teams in the conference to claim an SPC title.
"It's like I'm on top of the world and stressed out at the same time," said Furlough, explaining that with five teams still having a shot at a title, the SPC is a tough conference to play in.
After a May 2 non-conference game at Carson, the team will face SPC contenders Central Cabarrus and Cox Mill the next two days respectively to close out the season.
"We're excited regardless of where we finish," said Furlough.
Regardless of results, Eudy is also happy with the Bulls' season.
"It's showed how much we've grown as a team," she said.
Hickory Ridge should also make the state playoffs, but Furlough isn't looking ahead just yet.
"I want them to go far, who doesn't want their team to go to the state championship?" said Furlough. "But now we just need to take it game-by-game and that's what we'll focus on."