Tough test for Saints at state
Published: Thursday, May 1, 2003 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, April 30, 2003 at 11:56 p.m.
The matchups for Atlantic District State Softball Tournament at Kissimmee. Today's games are set for 2 p.m. starts:
"Our saying is 'To be the best, you have to beat the best,' " Saints coach Chris Ahern said as her team prepares to play defending national champion Indian River Community College in today's opening round of the double-elimination state tournament in Kissimmee. "They're the best."
A year ago, as an assistant to then-head coach Terri Knecht, Ahern could have used the same phrase because at the time, the Saints were paired up against the 2001 national champion Lake City Community College.
SFCC lost that game 11-3 and the subsequent game, which ended the Saints' season, but with eight players returning from that team, intimidation will be less of a factor.
"Because this is IRCC's first year as the defending state champions and they haven't done it a lot, there isn't that awe factor," Ahern said. "They haven't had this team-to-beat aura.
"There may be that wow-they're-pretty-good feeling, but intimidation is not the word I'd use. This team is better equipped to take on the big guys. They are not intimidated. They're pumped."
The Saints (35-15-1) will have to overcome more than intimidation to beat IRCC. The Pioneers finished the regular season 52-1 and are better than any team the Saints have seen since they split a doubleheader with the University of Florida in the fall season, Ahern said.
"They have talent at every position, for sure," Ahern said. "And there's a lot of depth. They have all the tools."
The Saints can match the Pioneers on defense and can keep up on offense if they string hits together, Ahern said.
But where IRCC has a significant edge is on the mound.
The Saints lost their best pitcher, sophomore Laurie Lopez, for two weeks in the middle of the season to a hip injury. Lopez returned before she was healed and has been taking turns in the pitching rotation even though her injury flares up when throwing, often causing her to limp off the field after games.
If Lopez feels she can pitch today, Ahern said the sophomore will start. If not, Ahern will turn to freshman Erin Guerra, who has seen increased time on the mound since the Saints' No. 2 pitcher, sophomore Karenmarie Pena's season ended about two weeks ago when she fouled a pitch into her face, breaking bones near her nose and eye.
"If we were healthy, it would be a super game - one of those games you had to see. But these kids are amazing, so it should be a super game no matter what," Ahern said. "I think we have a decent chance of winning."
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