ERWIN — There's been plenty of firsts for Cape Fear Christian Academy coach Sterling Holmes since taking over the storied softball program four years ago.
Friday, Holmes was able to add a couple more to the list as he watched his group dismantle Fayetteville Christian Academy, 10-0, in five innings to claim its first Sandhills Conference tournament championship since joining the league in 2018.
"The team is ecstatic. I'm ecstatic," Holmes said after wrapping up a perfect 6-0 record in SAC play, prompting him to receive his first coach of the year award.
"We've been in the conference with 2- and 3A teams in which we battled, but we were kind of at a disadvantage. This year, these girls have finally come together and we were actually able to pull off a conference championship, so it's exciting."
The last CFCA league title was in 2017 as a member of the Eastern Airborne Conference. That Lady Eagles squad also boasted a flawless record through six league matchups.
For CFCA starting pitcher Claire Parker, the coronation was a testament to the dedication she and her teammates displayed through a challenging period.
"We've been working towards it (conference title) the last couple of years and we're so excited we were finally able to get it this year," Parker said, following her lights-out performance Friday that warranted player of the year honors.
"Everyone did their best and played their part."
Parker's best took the form of allowing just one hit over five innings while striking out five and walking one.
Though the junior veteran says she didn't expect to be called for the honor after the game, Holmes wasn't as surprised.
"Claire is one of the hardest-working players I've ever seen ... it was very well deserved for her," Holmes said.
Joining Parker on the all-conference list were a slew of Lady Eagles performers including Cailee Ray, Kim Bordeaux, Rhyleigh Horne, Mariah Bell and Bekah Ennis.
CFCA opened up scoring in the first inning when Bell singled to bring in Ray and take a 1-0 lead.
The Lady Eagles racked up 12 hits with Ray, Bordeaux, Bell, and Kennedy all finishing with two each.
"This has been one of the best hitting teams I've coached," Holmes said.
"It's throughout the whole lineup. Everybody's contributing. It's just been a stellar performance by them all season long."
The group earned five runs in the fourth inning, with Bell, Bordeau and Kristina Kennedy powering the charge.
It marked the third double-digit win over FCA this season, with two of the victories coming by way of shutout.
"I think it was very fitting. These girls have worked so hard and put in so much time," Holmes said of the wide margin.
"We made a statement during the season and for us to come out and make another one today was awesome."
The Lady Eagles (7-2-1) now ride a seven-game winning streak into next week's state playoffs.
With COVID-19 shortening last season to just five games, Parker is eager to repeat the run from CFCA's 2019 state title team.
"Our next goal is the state playoffs. We're trying to win the state championship again," she said.
A single by Madison Gerber in the third inning was the sole hit for Fayetteville Christian.
Donnell Coley can be reached at email@example.com or 910-230-2040.