© 2024. Randolph Hub. All Rights Reserved.


Southwestern Randolph players eye the state championship trophy that is coming their way.     Eric Abernathy/Randolph Hub

The winding road to a state championship

GREENSBORO — It was moments after the Southwestern Randolph High School softball team had completed a stunning comeback by scoring two runs in the bottom of the seventh inning for a heart-stopping and state 2-A championship series win over Midway when junior hurler Macie Crutchfield declared, “Nobody expected us to be here and I really think nobody expected us to be state champs.”


With Crutchfield on the mound and a team full of players who excellently executed their roles throughout the postseason, it should have been more like nobody expected the Cougars not to win a state championship.

But the Cougars, who ended the season 23-7, didn’t enter the postseason looking like a team that would go very far in the playoffs, yet alone capture a state title.


Having lost games to Oak Grove (3-2), Mount Pleasant (8-0) and Uwharrie Charter Academy (4-3) for the Piedmont Athletic Conference regular-season title in the final week of the regular season, you could say the Cougars were reeling entering postseason play.


Seeded second for the PAC Tournament, the Cougars defeated Trinity 15-0, Randleman 3-1 and then UCA 4-1 to win the conference tournament title. Crutchfield and the Cougars allowed just two runs in those three games and that was a sign of things to come.


Seeded fourth in the West, SWR opened the state playoffs with a no-nonsense 5-0 win over No. 29 Walkertown before struggling defensively during a 4-0 victory over No. 13 McMichael. Certainly a team that had trouble securing infield pop flies would stumble defensively again in a later round, ending hopes of any state championship.


But with a defense that suddenly turned the corner and Crutchfield throwing her arsenal of screwballs and riseballs, a 3-0 win over No. 5 Owen was followed by a thrilling 1-0 win over No. 1 seeded West Wilkes. Madelyn Smith, who has spearheaded so many offensive outputs for the Cougars during her career, tripled in the top of the seventh and scored on a sacrifice fly from Alyssa Harris.


Maybe there is something magical about this team.


Facing a North Stanly team in the regional finals, the same North Stanly team that handed the Cougars a 2-0 setback back in mid-March during the regular season, SWR found itself in another dogfight. An eight-inning 1-0 loss in Game 1, the only run being unearned, sent the Cougars on the brink of elimination. But on May 22, an incredibly large number of supporters were treated to one of the most exciting games in years. With the score tied at 1-1, Crutchfield and North Stanly’s Sophia Crist hurled shutout ball for five extra-innings of play with the Cougars knowing any run allowed could end their playoff push.


But in the 13th inning, the Cougars finally pushed across a run for a 2-1 win, setting up the decisive game in the best-of-three series. Crutchfield was on again as she shut down the Comets 2-0 for her fifth shutout of the state playoffs.


The win earned the Cougars a trip to the state championship series for the first time since 2010. All of a sudden, the Cougars were out to match the feat accomplished by the SWR softball teams of 2001, 2007, 2009 and 2010. 


After rolling to a 13-0 win over Midway in Game 1 of the best-of-three state finals, the Cougars entered Game 2 full of confidence.


“We all knew not to be overconfident,” Smith said. “That was the main thing. It's hard to stay focused and not think we have this. We had to stay humble.”


Game 2 was certainly a different scenario as the never-say-die Cougars somehow scored two runs with two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning for a 3-2 win and the state title. Clutch hits from Haleigh Thompson, Smith and Kami Dunn in the final inning produced the two runs with Smith scoring the game-winning run on a heads-up base-running play when she noticed the ball squirting away from the catcher after Sara-Kate Marion had slid home with the tying run.


A state title winning rally keyed by so many crucial plays by so many different players.


Coaches love to use the term “team win.” This entire run in the postseason could definitely be classified as “team wins.”  From the stellar play of Crutchfield, Smith, Harris, Dunn, Maddie Strider, Micah Wilson, Nautica Parrish, Thompson and Lileigh Payne, who was named the sportsmanship award winner for the Cougars, to Marion, Ryleigh Hineline and others who were used as pinch- and courtesy runners, to those on the bench who showed continued support along the way, to the coaches and to the throng of supporters who were with the Cougars every step of the way on this magical run, it was a four-week journey that will not soon be forgotten.


And despite the losses the Cougars will have to endure due to graduation, there’s little doubt that when softball season rolls around again in 2025, nobody is going to doubt how far the Cougars can really go.