RALEIGH, N.C. — The Golden Hawks can’t wait to see what Jill Munchick will do for an encore.
The 1994 Cloverleaf graduate took over for Matt Clifton as Holly Springs’ softball coach after a six-year stint at Smithfield-Selma and promptly sent the Hawks to a place they’d never been before.
“I knew I inherited a team that was talented,” said Munchick, who teaches health and physical education at Holly Springs. “We were 18-3 last year, but we just weren’t able to get past that third round (in Ohio it would be the round of 16).
“I was trying to challenge them to be better players and create more personal discipline. They worked extremely hard to get there. It kind of paid off and we came together.”
Munchick is being modest.
The public school made history by reaching the 4-A State semifinals — Ohio’s version of Division I — behind solid players like Erica Nunn and top hitters Cianna Burt, Jenna Firestein and Kristen Krebs, eventually finishing the season 23-3.
The team went on winning streaks of 13 and 10 games, losing in the regular season to only returning state semifinalist Fuquay-Varina in the regular season.
Ironically, it was that 2-1 loss that pushed the Hawks to new heights.
“About midway through the season, it started to come together,” Munchick said. “Our pitcher (Nunn) was phenomenal. If we could score three runs a game, we had a chance.
“About halfway through, we were taking care of business. The loss to Fuquay-Varina woke us up. They’ve always been a powerhouse.”
What followed was a stretch run for the ages as Holly Springs continued to knock off teams en route to their voyage to Raleigh to play at the Walnut Creek Softball Complex.
A 1-0 win over Clayton gave the Hawks the Eastern Regional title and a shot at Alexander Central and North Carolina State recruit Chelsea Wilkinson.
Holly Springs went nine innings with the eventual state champions — ranked eighth in the nation by ESPN Rise — before falling 3-0.
North Carolina runs a double-elimination tournament once there are four teams remaining and the Hawks lost 4-0 to defending state champion North Davidson the next day to fall out of the running.
It was the most runs the squad had allowed all season.
“They exceeded my expectations,” Munchick said. “For many of us, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. But to play in the state tournament and have another chance next year, they’re even more driven to get there and take care of business.”
That’s the golden nugget in all of this as Holly Springs will have 12 letterwinners back next season, including Nunn, Burt, Firestein and Krebs.
“That’s all they talk about,” Munchick said. “They can’t wait to work this summer and get better. I’m high energy. They thought I was crazy at the beginning of the year, but by the end of the season they were excited. What we did, built a tremendous amount of confidence in our players for next year.”
Contact Brad Bournival at firstname.lastname@example.org.