Union County

Piedmont’s young pitcher becoming a leader

The Piedmont High School softball team got to the state semifinals this season: from left, coach Matt Gimber, Cristi Pressley, Callie Smith, Gracie Gibson, Kristen Del Bene, Bailey Helms, Gracie Rape, Danielle DelBene, Kayla York, coach Jason Phelix, Tristyn Edwards, Ava Duncan, Lauren Rushing, Maddi Little, Kyrah Phelix and Jessica VonCannon.
The Piedmont High School softball team got to the state semifinals this season: from left, coach Matt Gimber, Cristi Pressley, Callie Smith, Gracie Gibson, Kristen Del Bene, Bailey Helms, Gracie Rape, Danielle DelBene, Kayla York, coach Jason Phelix, Tristyn Edwards, Ava Duncan, Lauren Rushing, Maddi Little, Kyrah Phelix and Jessica VonCannon. COURTESY OF JAMEY WARD

Cristi Pressley says that when she steps on the softball field, she feels most at home.

For the past three seasons, the 5-foot-9 Piedmont High junior has proven just how comfortable she is on the diamond: She is a three-time all-state, all-district and all-conference performer.

Pressley has 44 career victories against 18 losses, and 450 strikeouts in 430 innings of work, including 53 complete games.

She also has hit nearly .350 for her career.

While Pressley’s numbers across are strong, her passion for the game is what drives her success. “I love playing softball because it’s my getaway from everyday life,” Pressley said. “If I’m frustrated or stressed or whatever, going to a softball game or practice is the best way for me to cope with it. When I’m on the softball field, nothing else matters. I just focus on trying to be the best player I can be for my team.”

This postseason, Pressley helped Piedmont make a run to the 3A Western Regional final series before losing to eventual state champion Enka.

In six playoff games, Pressley batted 11-for-15, for .733. She also went the distance on the mound in each postseason game, totaling 42 innings. She posted a 4-2 record with 28 strikeouts while surrendering 11 runs.

The Southern Carolinas’ conference Pitcher of the Year had another huge season her junior year, going 19-5 on the mound with a 1.41 ERA and 178 strikeouts in 174 innings. Pressley also pitched 23 complete games, with opponents hitting .208.

But Pressley, who also led her team with a .395 batting average and 12 doubles, is never satisfied.

“I got off to a slower start this season, but my coaches and teammates really kept me going,” Pressley said. “But it felt great to play my best and step up for my team when it mattered most in the playoffs.

“I believe when you’re on the mound or at the plate, you have to have a confidence – even a little cockiness in yourself – that you are going to get that hit or get that out. I never lost that confidence in myself. I just try to keep getting better each game.”

Piedmont coach Jason Phelix said “As the season went on, Cristi just kept raising her level of play. She was huge for us all season, but in the state playoffs, she was incredibly hot. She made big plays in every game.”

Pressley made a difference in each playoff game. She had the game-winning hit in the 3-2 first-round win against Central Cabarrus; then she led her team from the mound the next three contests, including a key win against Sun Valley on the road in the state quarterfinals.

She had help from a loaded Piedmont lineup that boasted eight players hitting over .319, including senior Danielle Del Bene (.325), juniors Tristyn Edwards (.319), Maddi Little (.333), Lauren Rushing (.383) and Jessica Voncannon (.360), and sophomores Gracie Gibson (.329) and Kyrah Phelix (.354).

The Panthers (21-7, co-SCC champions) spent most of the season ranked among the top five in the state, according to Maxpreps.com, finishing No. 6 overall.

“We were a great team all season from top to bottom, players one through 14,” Phelix said. “One of the biggest compliments I got all season is an opposing coach was watching our warmups and he said he couldn’t tell who our starters were. He said everyone looked like a starter.”

The Piedmont team is reaping the rewards of its success with Edwards (Appalachian State) and Voncannon (Wingate) already committed to play college softball, while Phelix, Pressley and Little recruited by several schools, according to Phelix.

Pressley said she already has been thinking about her senior season, where seven starters will be back in the lineup.

“I love to compete and I love to win,” Pressley said. “For me, every at-bat, every pitch is a competition I want to win.

“Honestly, it’s a day-to-day thing for me. My goal is to get better every single day I step on the field.”

Jay Edwards is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Jay? Email him at jedwardsjr23@gmail.com.

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