SEFFNER - In the past few years, Armwood has gone through some hard times. But that is changing.
In 2002, the Hawks went 0-20. Last year, Gena Dempsey took over and led Armwood to a 4-15 record.
This year, with only one senior and one junior surrounded by freshmen and sophomores, the Hawks are 8-1. They have skill, travel ball experience and a hunger to win. And they are having fun.
"When I came on board last year, a group of freshmen entered Armwood with a yearning to play softball, and they had experience," Dempsey said. "I started by stressing fun in the game and learning basic fundamentals.
"My coaching staff helped me come up with challenges in practice to encourage them to want to be back the next day. On-field achievements are rewarded with things like pizza and polar cups, and mess-ups require running. Even when they beat the coaches in fun games, we had to run."
As the Hawks gathered to start this season, Dempsey used last year's record as a positive building block rather than a losing season. She reminded them four wins beats zero.
To earn a state playoff spot, Armwood must reach the final of the district tournament, which will include Freedom, Jefferson, Blake, Newsome and Tampa Bay Tech. The Hawks have beaten all of them except TBT, whom they play this weekend.
"Our girls are young, and they take nothing for granted," Dempsey said.
"They know each game has to be played and our district is still going to be a battle."
At 5-1, Lauren McKelvey, a freshman, is the ace, and sophomore Steffani Smith also is part of the rotation. Sophomore catcher Jessica O'Brien leads Armwood with a .458 batting average. She has a home run, three doubles and eight RBIs in addition to picking off four runners and throwing out four trying to steal.
Sophomore rightfielder Selicia Walker is hitting .347 with two triples, a double and three RBIs. Senior first baseman Crystal Carter is hitting .320, and freshman Bianca Johnson, who has played shortstop and centerfield, is hitting .307.
Last season, the Hawks scored 49 runs all year. In their first nine games, they have 70 while allowing only 36.
"We have a long way to go and some tough games to play. But our girls love to play and are having fun with the game," Dempsey said. "No matter what happens in the spring break and the rest of the season, they are getting better. I am proud of their play."
NOTHING: Alonso sophomore Ashleigh Grove threw a perfect game last week against Freedom. She now is 5-1 with a 1.43 ERA for the Ravens, who are 8-1.
GREAT DEFENSIVE PLAY: Plant City took the No. 2 team in Class 6A, Bloomingdale, to eight innings before losing 1-0. Two of its underclassmen helped keep it tight. Sophomore pitcher MacKensie Dawson scattered three hits, and junior third baseman Brittany Reece had five assists.