Softball state semifinals previews


Gainesville's Allie Wilkerson and the Hurricanes play the defending 6A champions, Pembroke Pines Charter, in their first trip to the state tournament.

Brad McClenny / Staff photographer
Published: Friday, May 10, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Thursday, May 9, 2013 at 10:53 p.m.

VERO BEACH — Two area softball teams have already made the journey here and left without a state title, but newcomers Bradford, Columbia and Gainesville High look to change that.

The Tornadoes, Tigers and Hurricanes have reached the state softball tournament for the first time, and today at the Vero Beach Sports Village, look to post victories for a chance to play for a state title on Saturday.

For Class 4A Bradford (28-2) and 6A Columbia (26-4), ranked No. 2 and No. 1 in their perspective classifications, they have had moderate success in softball, albeit never reaching the final four previously. But for fellow 6A Gainesville (20-8), which hadn't made the playoffs since 2008, this has been a surprising journey.

Here is a breakdown of today's three games, all that can be seen live online at fhsaa.playonsports.com.

CLASS 6A SEMIFINALS

Gainesville vs. Pembroke Pines Charter: The Hurricanes take on the defending 6A state champion Jaguars (20-3), who have outscored their regional opponents 28-0, at 4:30 p.m. Gainesville has dealt with high-scoring teams in the past, beating Melbourne Eau Gallie, a 15-0 regional semifinal winner over Palm Bay, but a 2-1 loser in the regional finals.

Freshman pitcher Katie Chronister has been outstanding during districts and regionals, giving up just one run in the last three victories over Citrus, Lecanto and Eau Gallie. She is not a bad hitter, either, delivering a two-run double, that put GHS ahead to stay in its regional final win.

“I think everyone is really excited to be where we are,” said Hurricanes coach Pete Mariano, who is in his sixth season. “At the beginning of the season we didn't expect to be there. But we made some changes, we got better as time went along, and in the last four or five games we have played with such confidence.

“We approach it that we can play with anybody. Our freshman pitcher, Katie Chronister, has done so well in the last few games that we think she can keep us in the game. Our feeling is if we can stay in the game until the later innings, then we have a shot to win it. We are excited about it.”

Senior Stephanie Caudle has a team-best 40 RBIs and is hitting .378 with two homers and six doubles. Sophomore Makailah Brown (.430, seven doubles, five triples) and senior Amanda Donovan (.411, eight doubles, three triples) are among the top hitters on the team.

Pembroke Pines Charter, which opened in 2001, had been 4A state runners-up three times before finally winning a state 6A title a year ago. Coached by Tom Fadul, who has been there since the start, the Jaguars have six batters batting above .400, led by junior Courtney Dart (.556, 11 doubles, 25 RBIs) and Claire Blount (.543, five doubles, 24 RBIs). Victoria Gonzalez has six homers.

Columbia vs. Bradenton Lakewood Ranch: The Tigers come in as the new No. 1 in 6A because their opponent today beat the previous top team, River Ridge, 8-3 in the regional finals. Columbia has shown it can win tight games, winning all three regional games that way, including a 2-1 rally over Lynn Haven Mosley in the regional finals. Mosley had beaten another previous No. 1 in Niceville.

“The girls are not happy just making it, they want to do well,” said Columbia coach Jimmy Williams, who is in his eighth season in Lake City. “They don't want to be that team losing their last game. They feel we played a tough enough schedule.”

The Tigers are led by UF signee Kayli Kvistad, a junior third baseman who is hitting .616 with six homers and 35 RBIs. Senior Keeley Murray has five homers while junior catcher Hollianne Dohrn has 27 RBIs and four homers. Junior Brandy Morgan has been an outstanding center fielder for Columbia, and had the game-winning hit to beat Mosley.

Sophomore pitcher Erin Anderson (15-2) has been an effective starting pitcher for the Tigers with fellow sophomore Ashley Shoup (12-2) coming in relief in the playoffs.

Interestingly, Columbia's four losses all came in Gainesville, three to P.K. Yonge and at Buchholz. It beat five ranked teams in winning a regular-season tournament in Ocala, and Williams has called this his best team.

“This group is different than previous teams I've had,” Williams said. “They care about each other, they care about the community. We are pretty focused on winning the whole thing.”

Lakewood Ranch (20-9-1), which lost to Pembroke Pines a year ago in the state semifinals, has an outstanding pitcher in sophomore Amanda Rak (14-7), who has a 0.94 ERA with 170 strikeouts in 132.2 innings pitched. Shea Fisher (.402, 11 doubles, 26 RBIs), Jenn Trotter (.405) and Taylor Newton (.367, 17 multibase hits, 27 RBIs) are among the Mustangs' top hitters.

CLASS 4A SEMIFINAL

Bradford vs. Pinecrest Gulliver Prep: The Tornadoes, winners of 10 straight, face the three-time defending state champions and top-ranked team in Florida, according to Miracle Sports. Bradford, which doesn't have a senior on its roster, is ranked No. 2 in 4A.

“They are the three-time defending state champions, but we look to control what we can control,” said Tornadoes coach Daniel Davis, who is in his fifth season. “We just need to play to the best of our abilities, that is the only way we can approach it. If we play a good game, I think we have a good shot. What I have been trying to tell them is we need good at bats, solid defense and good pitching.”

Bradford has had all of that in its march to the state tournament. Prior to this season, the farthest it had been was the regional semifinals.

Junior pitcher Ashton Adkins has been outstanding in the postseason, tossing back-to-back shutouts in her last two outings, including a no-hitter in Bradford's 7-0 win over Keystone Heights in the regional semifinals. In the 1-0 regional final win over Titusville Astronaut, Adkins gave up just three hits with six strikeouts, facing just two batters over the minimum.

Sophomore third baseman Taylor Cruce has an area-leading 12 home runs with 41 RBIs, 10 doubles and a .391 batting average. Fellow sophomore Jaci Atkinson (.423) has the team's best average, and another sophomore, Jordan Davis has 13 doubles and has had several key late-game hits, like her game-winning double to beat South Sumter, 3-2, in the regional quarterfinals.

“I thik that is why they play so well,” Davis said about his team's youth. “So far they have responded when their backs were to the wall. Being young they are not feeling that pressure to have to win. Next year there will be more pressure because they are young and we made it state. Right now they are riding that wave of confidence.”

Gulliver Prep (23-5) has one of the state's most respected softball coaches in Mark Schusterman, who has led the Raiders for 27 years. They won 3A state titles in 1998 and 2001. Senior first baseman Stephanie Texeira, an FAU commit, is one of the state's top players, setting a Dade County record this season with 16 homers, three short of the state record. She also has 47 RBIs.

Senior Ashley Leon (.495, 12 doubles) and junior Crystal Garcia (.415, nine doubles, 22 RBIs) are also top hitters for the Raiders.

FHSAA State Softball Tournament

At Vero Beach Sports Village

Today's semifinals

Class 4A: Bradford vs. Pinecrest Gulliver Prep, 2 p.m.

Online broadcast: http://fhsaa.playonsports.com/events/60490

Class 6A: Columbia vs. Bradenton Lakewood Ranch, 4 p.m.

Online broadcast: http://fhsaa.playonsports.com/events/59157

Class 6A: Gainesville vs. Pembroke Pines Charter, 4:30 p.m.

Online broadcast: http://fhsaa.playonsports.com/events/60491

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