Broncos task: Beat state champ beaters

By Randy Lefko Sports Editor
Posted 5/25/22

CLERMONT - Middleburg High softball enters into unchartered territory this week with a first foray into the state Final Four for a shot at a state championship season.

The Broncos, 18-11 and …

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Broncos task: Beat state champ beaters

Posted

Middleburg High softball enters into unchartered territory this week with a first foray into the state Final Four for a shot at a state championship season.

Plus, their first Final Four game is against Naples High, a team with a history of 10 state titles and a recent region final win over defending state champion, Fort Myers.

“We really don’t put a lot into who we are playing but we watch the film, make a plan and then go have fun with it,” said Middleburg coach Ashley Houston, who took one step further this year from last year’s region final loss to Pace High. “We don’t get too hyped up about what people write about. The preparation is the most stressful part, the game is the fun part.”

The Broncos, 18-11 and seeded second of the Final Four teams with South Lake (18-11) at number one and East Bay (17-12) at number two, have one or two things going for them as they head to Clermont on Thursday to face third seed Naples (20-6).

Naples got to the Final Four by beating defending 4A champion Fort Myers 5-0 in their region final in Fort Myers to have their own wave of momentum going for them. Naples exploded for four runs in the third inning to end the Fort Myers repeat hopes. Middleburg lost 11-3 to Fort Myers in tournament play in March.

The Naples vs. Fort Myers region final game, like Middleburg, Keystone Heights and Oakleaf, was played 24 hours earlier due to weather and the Naples Golden Eagles acknowledged in an article in the local news that “Everyone in this county and state think we are not going to beat Fort Myers.”

Naples had already beaten Fort Myers earlier in regular-season play 5-4. Senior pitcher Macy Miles leads the Golden Eagles with 151 strikeouts and two games with double digit nights; 10 and 16 whiffs. Miles is slated to play at the University of Central Florida next fall.

“We take a look at her sequence and throws and try and make adjustments for our batters,” said Houston. “At this level, every pitcher is very good. Our pitcher is pretty good too.”

One, they have one of the premier pitchers in the state with senior Mallory Forrester, a Flagler College commit, throwing fireballs all season to the tune of a truckload of games with double digit strikeouts with a handful above the coveted 20Ks mark.

Note: In a seven-inning game, three outs per inning equals 21 strikeouts if perfect. Forrester has 251 strikeouts for the 29-game season off (21 game starts) with 14 games with 10-plus whiffs and two games with 21 sits.

“We were hoping she would have a shot at 300 strikeouts this year,” said Houston. “If she gets 49 strikeouts in the next two games, we should be sitting pretty.”

In the last two games; region playoff semifinal over Gainesville and region championship win over Lincoln, Forrester had 19 sits.

Second, the Broncos have a handful of “game-winner” players that will surprisingly (by mere mortal sportswriters) pop up in games and make game-changing plays either in the batter's box or on the field.

Take, recently, freshman Kaelyn Hagan at third base and Alyssa Prather, a sophomore at catcher. Against Ridgeview, in the final out of the game in 1-0 Broncos’ win, Hagan literally smashed into the foul line fence to snare the final out. Prather hit the only run-scoring shot of the day, a first-inning double with Kagan already on base off a single.

In a 1-0 regular-season loss to 3A-Baldwin, a Final Four team also after defeating Keystone Heights in that region final, Kagan smashed a double against Baldwin’s ace Piper Young, a Lake Sumter State College commit, in a fearless gesture of youthful defiance.

“We are really bought into what we do and they all love to play as a team,” said Houston. “We all suit up just like them and they still have to hit the ball and catch it. We just have fun.”

In the Bronco's dramatic 2-1 win over Lincoln in 13 innings for the region title, it was Kagan who hit the decisive double to score the go-ahead run with Maisy Campbell on third base via an error and sacrifice bunt from Taylor Wilkinson.

For Houston, the journey is one step further than last year and the lesson learned from last year is simple.

“Have fun, play hard,” said Houston. “That’s what we do.”

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