Lafayette, Suwannee softball are first up at state


Lafayette ace Lindsay O'Steen and the Hornets are back in the state final four to defend their championship won a year ago today at the National Training Center in Clermont. This year the state tourney is in Vero Beach.

Bruce Ackerman/Staff photographer
Published: Tuesday, May 7, 2013 at 11:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, May 8, 2013 at 12:13 a.m.

For the Lafayette softball team, reaching the state tournament is nothing new. The Hornets, playing in their fifth final four since 2001, face Chipley this morning at 10:30 in a Class 1A state semifinal at the Vero Beach Sports Village.

Facts

FHSAA State Softball Tournament

At Vero Beach Sports Village
Today's semifinals
Class 1A: Lafayette vs. Chipley, 10:30 a.m.
Online broadcast: http://fhsaa.playonsports.com/events/59142
Class 5A: Suwannee vs. Lake Wales, 4 p.m.
Online broadcast: http://fhsaa.playonsports.com/events/59148
Friday's semifinals
Class 4A: Bradford vs. Gulliver Prep, 2 p.m.
Class 6A: Columbia vs. Lakewood Ranch, 4 p.m.; Gainesville vs. Pembroke Pines Charter, 4:30 p.m.

But for Suwannee (5A), Bradford (4A), Columbia (6A) and Gainesville (6A), this will be a new experience. In fact, these four schools hadn't reached the regional finals prior to this season.

This area previously had never had five schools advancing to a state final four competition in any sport. So for area softball enthusiasts, what is happening this week in Vero Beach is pretty special.

Lafayette (21-5) and Suwannee (17-9) are up first today in the state semifinals, with the Hornets opening the tournament this morning, and the Bulldogs taking on Lake Wales (18-10) at 4 p.m.

Bradford, Columbia and Gainesville all play in their state semifinals Friday.

A breakdown on today's two games:

CLASS 1A SEMIFINAL

Lafayette vs. Chipley: The Hornets come in as one of five defending champions returning to the state tournament, beating Jay a year ago (12-9) to become the area's first state champion in softball. A majority of these same players were in Kissimmee last November, winning the school's second straight volleyball title and are looking for their fourth state title in two years.

Leading the charge is pitcher Lindsay O'Steen, a College of Central Florida signee, who was a dominating force in volleyball and is an outstanding softball player. The senior is 14-2 on the mound with a 2.14 ERA, 114 strikeouts while batting .455 with eight homers and an area-best 46 RBIs. Sophomore Sydney Shows (.580, 30 RBIs) and freshman Lacey Swafford (.528) are among area leaders in batting, and junior catcher Lydia Land, who is battling out of a recent hitting slump, had a grand slam for her fifth homer of the season in Lafayette's 18-1 rout of Bell in the regional finals last week.

“It is a little different in that there has been so much expectations on them by being defending champs,” Hornets coach Derek Garland said. “By getting here, I think they are a little more relaxed and will enjoy the game a little more. In the district tournament and regionals, our girls were really pressing and putting too much pressure on themselves.”

Lafayette, which played Columbia, Bradford and Suwannee during the regular season, got a scare in the regional semifinals, trailing Hilliard 5-0 at one point. The Hornets rallied to pull out a 10-8 victory.

Chipley (11-12) is also led by its pitcher, senior Mallory Dean, who had 11 strikeouts and drove in a run in the Tigers' 4-1 win over Jay in the regional finals. This will be Chipley's first state tournament since 2003.

CLASS 5A SEMIFINAL

Suwannee vs. Lake Wales: The Bulldogs may be on the most impressive roll of any local team at the state tournament, winners of 10 straight with a pair of regional shutouts and a convincing 8-2 win at Ponte Vedra in Sunday's regional final.

“This is an exciting accomplishment, first time in school history we are going to the state tournament,” Suwannee coach Tommy Chambers said. “To get past the sweet 16 for the first time, getting to the final four is just a plus. The school is excited, the girls are excited, the community is excited. Playing our district final here in Live Oak and our first two regional games really brought out the community and the girls really appreciate the support.”

Junior lefty Audre Bryant (6-1) has won her last six starts on the mound and has been dominant in the regionals, shutting out West Florida and Panama City Rutherford, and keeping Ponte Vedra's bats in check.

She has received plenty of offensive support from Stetson signee Jessie TenBroeck (.564), sophomore Timberly Steichen (.375, six homers) and freshman Jordan Roberts (.421, seven homers). The Bulldogs are averaging 7.8 runs in this winning streak, which included victories over final four teams Madison County (4A, twice) and at Lafayette.

TenBroeck, who has an area-leading 49 stolen bases and 41 runs scored, has been 26 of 37 at the plate during this 10-game run.

“She has been the spark plug during this streak,” Chambers said. “She makes everyone else better.”

Lake Wales, under longtime coach Nancy Denton, is making its sixth trip to the state tournament and first since falling to Dunnellon 3-1 in the 4A state final in 2009. The Highlanders, runners-up in District 10, have won all three of their regional games on the road, upsetting rival Auburndale (2-1) and pounding Bradenton Bayshore 18-6 in the regional finals.

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