Lady Rams’ Coach Hilliard-Gray: ‘Record doesn’t reflect talent level’

Lady  Rams’ Coach Hilliard-Gray:  ‘Record doesn’t reflect talent level’
April 09
00:00 2015
(Above: Photo by Craig T. Greenlee- WSSU’s Chyna Riley has emerged as a valued contributor in her sophomore season.)


This softball season has been a struggle for Winston-Salem State. With less than a month remaining before the CIAA championships, the Lady Rams were 10-17 overall.

That’s a different scenario from recent history. WSSU has won three of the last four conference crowns and advanced to the NCAA Division II Atlantic Regional Tournament each time.

A look at the roster provides some insight about the team’s sporadic play. Roughly 70 percent of the roster is comprised of freshmen and sophomores. As for upperclassmen, the numbers are sparse (three seniors and one junior).

“We’ve had our ups and downs this season,” said veteran WSSU coach LaTaya Hilliard-Gray. “Our won-loss record doesn’t reflect our talent level. This group is still going through a growing process and learning how to come together as a team.

“Even though we’ve struggled, I’m very satisfied that our players continue to remain totally committed to the program. The vision is for us to grow stronger as the season progresses. Coming down the stretch, we’ll have plenty of opportunities to see how much we can grow.”

In a double-header loss to Anderson University (SC) on April 4, the Lady Rams were never able to get fully in sync against the Trojans, ranked No. 21 in the national polls. The first game ended in a 10-6 defeat. WSSU cranked out 11 hits, but left eight runners stranded on base. In an 8-2 setback in the second game, the Lady Rams had nine hits, but the three errors they committed contributed to their downfall.

The season didn’t get off to the best of starts. The Lady Rams lost their first seven games and it’s only been twice this season that they’ve won back-to-back games. Establishing continuity hasn’t been easy either. During the early part of the season, inclement weather resulted in 13 games being postponed or cancelled.

Whether WSSU can put together a lengthy win streak before the end of the regular season is anyone’s guess. At this juncture, that’s what it would take for the Lady Rams to have a legitimate shot at reaching the .500 mark by early May when the conference championships are held in Cary.

“We’re looking to get on track and hopefully, we’ll be playing our best right ball towards the end of the regular season,” said Hilliard-Gray. “We won’t be satisfied just to win the tournament and go to the regionals. The goal is to compete and make it past the first round.”

The Lady Rams, 6-2 in the CIAA, are led by three players who provide stability and versatility.

Sophomore right-handed pitcher Mercedes Hargett is arguably WSSU’s best player. As a pitcher, she has a 6-9 record with 91 strikeouts and 38 walks. At the plate, she’s batting .382 with four home runs and 15 RBIs. Hargett ranks among the CIAA leaders in pitching wins, RBIs and homers.

“After her freshman year, she worked hard in the off-season and I could tell the difference right away,” said Hilliard-Gray. “When she came back, she was a much better player than she was a year ago.”

Chyna Riley (.386 batting average) has emerged as productive utility player who can pitch and play in the outfield and at second base. Under Hilliard-Gray’s guidance, Riley, a sophomore, has transitioned well as a converted left-handed hitter, who bats in the lead-off position in the lineup.

“Hitting from the left side helps Chyna to take full advantage of her speed,” Hilliard-Gray said. “She’s petite (5-feet-4), but plays much bigger than her size.”

Katrina Bartlett, a senior who alternates between third base and shortstop, originally attended junior college and switched to playing in the outfield. Hilliard-Gray convinced her to change back to being an infielder when she came to WSSU. The move has worked out well for all parties involved.

Bartlett is the team’s leading hitter (.413) and she’s tied with Hargett for the team lead in home runs and RBIs. “Katrina has stepped up as one the voices of leadership,” Hilliard-Gray said. “She’s aggressive at the plate and she’s good with the glove.”

Winston-Salem State will return to action with a doubleheader at home against Barton College on April 17 at Salem College Field. The first game is set to begin at 4 p.m.

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Craig Greenlee

Craig Greenlee

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