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Gryphons seek some continuity

Sickles will insert some new players into the same system that has worked well for five years.


© St. Petersburg Times, published February 18, 2003

CITRUS PARK -- It's not a complicated formula Sickles softball coach Tammy Overcash subscribes to. In fact, it's pretty simple: discipline, defense and pitching.

Rudimentary or not, the results are difficult to dispute: Five years, four district championships, three final four appearances, one state runner-up and a state championship. And with a lineup that has been retooled -- not rebuilt -- the Gryphons might be primed for another run deep into the state playoffs in Year 6. "We try to focus on the day-to-day fundamentals," said Overcash, the only coach since the program's inception in 1998. "And then it's a matter of incorporating players into our system."

And that will be the main task entering this season, which begins tonight with a district game against Plant. Overcash's lineup will be void of its three main components during the past few seasons: Tiffany Clark, Tiffany Stuart and Laura Templeton.

"It's a little bit of a younger team," Overcash said. "But most of the players have been in the system and know what we do. Some of our new kids may be a little amazed at first, but the ones that have been here have all been a part of our success."

And that success now starts with senior pitcher Jackie Leppla.

A veteran of Sickles' program, Leppla came into her own last season as the team's No. 1 pitcher. She went 17-4 and chipped in on defense, playing first and third base, a role she will continue this season. The Gryphons' outstanding one-two pitching punch continues with junior Krystal Crews. A junior, Crews made only a few brief appearances last season, but Overcash has penciled her in as the No. 2 option this year.

The Gryphons will look a little different in the field as they try to duplicate 2002's 22-4 record. Only a 3-0 loss to Naples Barron Collier in the region final kept the Gryphons from another final four.

Of Overcash's tweaked lineup this year, several players will see a significant increase in playing time. Catcher Nicole Forbes is new to the team and will split time with Stephanie Haney, who also can play in the outfield. Alex Jones will play second base. Britney Beaudoin primarily will play leftfield but can play in center, and Theresa Marotta will be at shortstop.

"Most of these kids were in and out of the lineup last season," Overcash said. "So they can do the things we ask, and they've really been working hard so far this year."

So with a full season ahead, improved teams in tough Class 4A, District 9 and plenty of past accolades to live up to, how does Overcash expect this group to handle the pressure?

"It's a tough act to follow," she said. "And you see a lot of teams out there with talent. But something with continued success is that you develop as a unit. There's no conflicts and no surprises.

"Everyone knows their roles. We work together, and that's how you stay successful."

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