Cristi Pressley admits she plays like she has something to prove every time she takes the mound for her Piedmont softball team.
For the last three seasons, the (three-time) all-state Panther pitcher has done that and more as she has set nearly every school record on the mound, including 44 wins, 450 strikeouts and a career 1.71 earned run average (ERA) in 431 innings (career).
Last year, Pressley had her best season to date, going 19-5 with 178 strikeouts and a 1.41 ERA. She also hit .395 with 12 doubles for a Piedmont team that got all the way to the 3A state semifinals.
That success has only motivated Pressley and company to work harder.
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"I play the game pitch by pitch because it keeps me on top of my game," said Pressley, who committed to Francis Marion University earlier this month (February). “Our whole team has had a different level of focus this whole off-season from conditioning to the weight room to workouts. We really push each other because we know we are capable of doing something special this year."
"Cristi (Pressley) is the most decorated pitcher in the history of our program," Piedmont coach, Jason Phelix said. "But the way she is, you would never know she had won a game. She always wants to be better. That helps set a great tone for this team."
Pressley is just a part of veteran, Panther team that returns seven starters and is loaded with talent, including: shortstop, Tristyn Edwards (Appalachian State signee), third baseman, Jessica Voncannon (Wingate signee), second baseman Maddie Little (all-state), centerfielder, Kyrah Phelix (Appalachian State commit) and catcher, Gracie Gibson (Catawba commit).
While this team looks to repeat as Southern Carolinas’ conference (SCC) champions and make a run at a 3A state title, they also know their biggest competition comes from their own conference and county in Sun Valley, who won the 2014, 3A state title and was co-SCC champions last year.
The Piedmont-Sun Valley battles have a playoff and championship game-like feel that Pressley relishes.
"You can’t prepare for what those big pressure game feel like, and it’s stressful, but I love it," Pressley said. :I want to be in those games, and I want to have the ball (pitching). We want to be playing in those championship games this season. We had a great year last season, but we were still two games from where we wanted to be (state championship)."
Charlotte Observer Softball Players to Watch
Brittany Pickett, Sun Valley, Sr., P/1B: North Carolina signee a standout on the mound (16-3) and at the plate (.448, 10 home runs) and is just a part of loaded Spartan lineup with Courtney Layton, Courtney Dean, Rebecca Murray.
Kat Craver, Mount Pleasant, Sr./1B: Rocky River conference player of the year, UNC Wilmington signee a big-time weapon at the plate hitting .526 with nine homers.
Emma Swenson, Butler, Sr., SS/P: Southwestern 4A player of the year, Wingate signee powers Bulldogs at the plate (.500), on the mound.
Julianna Ropas, Providence Day, Jr., P: All-state pitcher, Appalachian State commit had six no hitters, two perfect games in 2015, looks to team classmate, Sam Russ (N.C. State commit) to make Chargers a contender in 2016.
Rachel Marion, Northwestern, Sr., C: All-state catcher, Newberry commit also a major offensive weapon, hitting .483 with seven homers. 14 doubles.