Just two days after they fell to North Davidson in two straight games for the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4-A softball championship, Cape Fear’s players and coaches Jeff McPhail and Mack Page returned to Doris Howard Field at Cape Fear to pack things up for the season.

It was the second straight year Cape Fear lost in the finals, again failing to hit in a series-opening loss, then having to dig itself out of too deep a hole after dropping the first game.

McPhail made no excuses and didn’t spend time discussing what might have been. Instead, he talked about the season ahead and what Cape Fear can do to remain one of the best softball teams in North Carolina. 

One thing the Colts have no control over is how strong their conference opponents are. Next year the Colts will be in the 4-A/3-A Patriot Conference. Two teams in that new league, E.E. Smith and Terry Sanford, were winless this season. Westover, Douglas Byrd and Pine Forest combined for 13 wins.

The only teams in the new league with winning 2017 records, aside from Cape Fear, will be South View and Gray’s Creek.

McPhail said Cape Fear has tried to schedule tougher nonconference foes like it did this year with Marlboro Academy and Whiteville, but added they’ve not been able to work out games with some of the better teams in the state.

“We’re going to try to sit down and look at some other schools, see if they want to come down or us go up there,’’ he said. “The last two or three years we tried, and their schedules were booked.’’

Beyond scheduling concerns, McPhail loses four talented seniors in Haley Cashwell, Bri Bryant, Kaitlyn Knuckles and Kayla Molivas, all starters. 

“Next year we’ll be kind of young on the varsity,’’ he said. “I feel the next two or three years we’ve got some good players coming up. And we’ve got our pitching back.’’

Mackenzie Peters and Katie Murphy both saw action in the state playoffs and will return in the circle for the Colts.

Among the biggest graduation losses is Cashwell, who earned All-American status during her four-year career and leaves with five N.C. High School Athletic Association fast-pitch softball state records.

Cashwell plans to play more travel softball this summer as she prepares to enroll at Wingate.

“I’m thankful I got to spend time with my best friends,’’ she said of her years at Cape Fear.

Cashwell expects to play middle infield at Wingate, which was 25-25 overall and 10-10 in the South Atlantic Conference this season, losing eight of its last 10 games.

“I’m going to better myself as much as I can, keep practicing and get better at everything,’’ she said.

Photo: Haley Cashwell graduates this year. She earned All-American status during her four-year softball career at Cape Fear and leaves with five N.C. High School Athletic Association fast-pitch softball state records.

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