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Jaguars rely on experienced ace

© St. Petersburg Times
published April 18, 2003

TAMPA -- Few starters returned from last season's Academy of the Holy Names team that finished 21-2. The Jaguars made it to the region final before losing a 3-2 nail-biter to eventual Class 2A champion Orlando Lake Highland Prep.

However, junior pitcher Jennifer Jacobs, called "J.J." by teammates and coaches, is back and keeping opponents on their toes. Perhaps on their heels is a better way to describe it.

Jacobs was the top pitcher for AHN last season and is in good form again, even with young teammates behind her. The Jaguars, 8-1 in District 11, are 16-9 overall and have held their own against a tough nondistrict schedule that includes 4A, 5A and 6A teams.

Jacobs (12-6) is exerting her strong leadership to help hold the team together until it finds its groove. In 120 innings, she has a 1.28 ERA and 138 strikeouts. She also has a .445 batting average and 12 RBIs.

"J.J. has been solid for us all season," second-year AHN coach Larry Rodriguez said. "Laurenleigh Guagliardo and Kelly Glover are our only seniors this season and we have eight freshmen, so we really are reloading. J.J. is our only experienced pitcher right now, but we are working with a few younger girls, teaching them to help us on the mound.

"We have been playing a lot of quality 5A and 6A teams and holding our own. In our own classification, we do very well, but we need to get more consistent."

Brittany Ville is one of the consistent freshmen. She brings a sure glove to third base and has a .445 batting average and a team-high 14 RBIs.

Emily Rivard, who plays catcher and outfield, leads off for the Jaguars with a .437 average. Glover is the shortstop and is hitting .412. Guagliardo has a strong arm in centerfield and is one of the team's fastest players along with freshman utility player Jessica Clark and sophomore outfielder/designated hitter Laura Hobso.

Even though the first four batters are hitting better than .400, the team average is .280, which means there is a drop in the bottom half.

"The girls are working hard getting ready for districts and the region playoffs, and hopefully they will peak at the right time," Rodriguez said. "Even with all the youth, we have some pretty good players. I don't really know just how far they will go this year. We have had a couple of games when they just put everything together and they are a good ballclub. Then there are the games when another team shows up."

DURANT IMPROVES: At the beginning of the season, Durant coach Melissa Sigmon wasn't certain how her team would do. Most of the players who took the Cougars to the state semifinals last season returned, but a few key contributors now are in college.

Sigmon discovered early she had to deal with a happy problem.

The Cougars are deep with 16 players and two talented pitchers, but only nine can play at one time, so Sigmon always has quality reserves.

The Cougars are 18-2 overall and 7-1 in Class 5A, District 7, which puts them on target for the top seed in the district tournament. Durant also knocked off defending Class 6A champion Riverview 2-1 in the Spring Fling title game in March.

"It is great to have the depth we have, but it is painful to have to see some quality players sitting on the bench," Sigmon said. "They all play though and work well together. This depth will come in handy in the playoffs, allowing us flexibility when needed in tough games."

Senior pitchers Mandy Garcia and Krista Olson, plus backup sophomore Leslie Corbett, have a combined ERA of 0.54.

The team batting average is .334 and the team fielding percentage is .964.

Senior shortstop Ashley Fertic is the Cougars' top hitter with an average of .453. She also has eight RBIs, 22 runs and nine steals. She has eight putouts and 18 assists at shortstop.

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