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Nothing but a title this year for Nation Ford

The number eight holds a lot of meaning for the Nation Ford softball team. All the team drills they used at practice Wednesday were made up of eight repetitions. Eight sprints; eight throws, etc.

More importantly, when Falcons coach Michael Kidd asked his players how many playoff wins they needed to win a state title the answer came immediately -- eight.

Practice was pretty loose. The coach referred to it as a confidence builder. He planned to make it short and sweet -- just enough to get the blood flowing.

Kidd started the softball program at Nation Ford. His team has quickly become one of the best in the area and among the state's elite. After a second place finish in Region 3-AAAA last year, the Falcons took home the region crown season. They have qualified for the playoffs all three years.

Nation Ford owns a 21-5 record and a No. 4 ranking in the latest South Carolina coaches poll.

With the region title come the spoils -- home games in the first and second rounds. Nation Ford hosts Rock Hill at 6 p.m. today to open the playoffs.

"This year has been all about attitude and a willingness to work hard," Kidd said. "They have flat put in the hours."

The coach was a standout high school pitcher at Fort Mill, pitched at Spartanburg Methodist and later returned to coach softball at Fort Mill High. He has worked with many of his current players for a half-dozen years on summer travel ball teams. He certainly went into this season with a good idea of the talent he had.

"I try not to be too conceited but this is the kind of year we expected," Kidd said.

After all, six of his players were on his 12-under National Softball Association (NSA) World Series team.

Sophomore Bradlee Holeman is the pitching ace. She has started all but one game this season and will take the mound today against Rock Hill. She is 19-5 with a 1.47 ERA and 203 strikeouts in about 170 innings.

Kidd said Holeman's pitches are regularly clocked at 65-67 mph. To put that figure into perspective, the coach explained the distance between the pitcher's mound and the plate is just 43 feet on a softball diamond. That makes Holeman's hurls equivalent to a 102 mph fastball in baseball, according to Kidd.

To test the theory, several of the school's baseball players faced her this spring. Excerpts from the encounter can be seen on YouTube. The baseball guys couldn't come close to putting a ball in play against the Falcons' flamethrower.

Kidd has cautioned Holeman that, although she can throw hard, she won't be able to throw it by everyone in the playoffs.

"She has to have some movement on her pitches. She is very competitive and she knows her job (tonight)," Kidd said.

Holeman is one of four sophomore starters. Shortstop Kim Ryder (.393, 23 runs) moved to Fort Mill with her family last summer from Oregon.

The catcher is Brittany Prather and Zharne' Glover plays center field.

Glover is one of the fastest players anywhere on a softball field but she hasn't been able to play. She got hit with a pitch in the team's first game that broke her right wrist. She wore a cast for a month and a splint for a couple more weeks. Through it all, she never missed a practice and was at every game as a vocal leader.

"Very vocal," Kidd kidded.

"Michael asked me if I could throw last week and I said 'yes,'" Glover said. "When he said I could play I was so happy. We played against Fort Mill so everyone was pumped already."

The coach inserted the speedster at the top of his lineup. She went 3-for-3 and drew a walk.

She has played exactly two games this season. Her return is a nice addition to the team as they begin their playoff assault.

There is talent among the seniors as well. Right fielder Jennifer Bonham (.312) and her twin Jessica (.415, 2 homers, 26 RBIs), a first baseman, are headed to Spartanburg Methodist to play softball next year.

Kidd said he no longer knows baseball folks at the college. He said the only ones he needs to know are the softball people.

Nation Ford lost in the fourth round of the 2009 playoffs to eventual state champ Gaffney.

The Falcons split with Gaffney during the regular season, and beat Summerville and North Augusta (twice). All three schools are top 10 teams.

The Falcons begin counting tonight hoping to reach the number eight.