KEYSTONE HEIGHTS – With a week left before district tournaments begin, area high school softball teams will finish off their regular season schedule intent on seeing just what is possible as far as …
KEYSTONE HEIGHTS – With a week left before district tournaments begin, area high school softball teams will finish off their regular season schedule intent on seeing just what is possible as far as a deep playoff run.
For two teams, Clay and Keystone Heights high schools; Final Four finishers last year; 6A and 5A, respectively, Thursday night’s 7-3 Blue Devil win was a barometric test of new faces and possible jumbled lineups.
“We’ve had some girls this season who have been what I needed as a teammate,” said Clay coach Matt Lewis. “They come to practice, bust their butts, not missing anything and I wanted to give them some game time in a pretty big game. I got one girl, Ashley Bouchie, who cries on the losses and she has not seen the dirt (playing time). “
And in Class 8A, state runnerup Oakleaf High, 19-3, got a black eye look at what may or may not be a bad omen for the upcoming playoff tournaments as the Lady Knights got derailed by unbeaten 1A in 2019 and 1A runnerup in 2018 Trenton High with an 8-3, error-marred showing. Just three days later, the Lady Knights doubled out with a 2-0 loss to Ridgeview with sibling Casey Thompson, Ridgeview’s coach, outwitting sister Christina Thompson, Oakleaf’s coach.
Oakleaf coach Christina Thompson has always put her team against the state’s best for playoff preparation and the past week of Knights’ ball has not been a snoozer with a 5-4, near comeback loss to unbeaten and top ranked statewide and class wide 8A-Lakewood Ranch, a 12-1 win over 7A-powerhouse Gainesville High (24th statewide) and a Wednesday 6-1 Kissimmee Klassic team title win Wednesday night over 8A No. 4, fifth statewide Bartow High, who by the way has seven state title trophies in their gym.
Winter Springs is the second unbeaten team in 8A at 22-0 and just might be added to the list of unbeatens that Thompson may eventually face off with in 2019.
Trenton and Ridgeview may have been the wakeup call to awaken the Godzillas that sleep in the Oakleaf dugout. Beware those thinking Oakleaf is on the proverbial ropes.
Back to Keystone Heights, coaches Matt Lewis of Clay and Jessica Marquart of Keystone Heights both were looking at new faces in hopes of replacing a plethora of talent to graduation; Charlotte Denapoli, Kaitlyn Kumpf and Hailey Stone for Clay and the likes of Ashleigh Jennings (FAU), Bailey Story (KHHS assistant coach), Skylar Rollins, Megan Moncrief and Molly Crawford for the Lady Indians, that raised the standard of play to the Final Four level in 2018.
“I had a different catcher and a new pitcher,” said Lewis, who has been stung with two district losses to Ridgeview. “I have to have a plan for next week and whatever happens after that. I have to have people able to come in if someone goes down.”
For Marquart, the graduation class removed an immense amount of talent and the Indians’ district is still stacked at the top with three teams; Santa Fe (11-1), Keystone Heights (9-1) and Bradford (8-4) all capable of ending up with the district title next week.
“Our district is very tight,” said Marquart, who returned just two starters and a pitcher from last year. “We’re going to have to step it up and learn how to play catch up. We are young and when we get down, they have to learn to come back. We had a lot of seniors last year who knew how to handle the pressure. We’re getting better.”
Clay opened up and notched three quick runs in the first inning off five singles in eight at bats; Kylee Stacy, Morgan Silvis, Dakota Worley, Delaney Anfinson and Sydney Lewis.
On the mound, Clay got a strong outing from freshman junior varsity pitcher Gabrielle Wiseman who got two flyballs and a strikeout.
“Gabrielle pitched a solid two innings and that was good for us,” said Lewis. “She gave good confidence that I could throw her in there in a pinch.”
Keystone Heights was unable to generate any offense in the next three innings with a bobbled grounder to Stacy at shortstop getting a baserunner, but Wiseman controlled the ball with a third out flyball.
Clay could not capitalize on their at bat against Keystone Heights pitcher Madi Mitzel, the Indians’ first baseman doing double duty on the mound, though Mitzel was not racking up Ks, she was not giving up big hits.
“I wanted to see what Madi could do,” said Marquart. “Our infield is strong and we have a good eighth grader at second base.”
In the fourth, Keystone Heights got on the scoreboard off singles from Kiley Channell and Savannah Channell coupled with a run scoring grounder from Isabelle Woodell. Mitzel got her first strikeout with a flyball and grounder to keep the Clay offense stifled.
Lewis sent in reliever Kailah McKean who opened with a strikeout, but the Keystone Heights offense rebounded with Mackenzie Lemaster singles, Asia Givens getting hit by a pitch and a wild pitch pushing two runs in.
Ashton Ludwig laced a single over second base to score the game 4-3 for the Indians.
Lewis was looking to not squander another late inning game as the Blue Devils opened a 3-0 lead on district 4-6A rival Ridgeview a week prior only to lose 8-3 off a series of errors.
Worley smashed a stand up double before Sydney Davis got to first being hit with a pitch with Lewis loading the base. McKean crushed a three run double and Madison Alexander got treated to an error on grounder that put across a fourth run and a 7-3 Clay lead.
Now, starting pitcher Morgan Crutcher entered the lineup for Clay and put the afterburners on the defense with two strikouts and two runners left on base.
Marquart countered with their big gun in sophomore Daelynn Eatmon on the mound and she popped off two strikeouts as both teams showed off a little mound prowess in the final innings; one hit between the two pitchers with 15 outs 19 at bats.