tampabay.com

The true test of a team's fortitude comes in April

By DAVE MURPHY
Published March 1, 2007


This isn't a column or an article or anything else you are used to reading on this hallowed sports page.

This is a challenge.

To Katelyn Vanderham. And Chelsea Chipoletti. And Demi Maldonado. And Ashley Lewie. And Cheyenne Sellers. And anyone else who wears yellow and purple and ponytails for Hernando High.

Close to one month into the softball season, there has been a lot of talk emanating out of the home dugout at Tom Varn Park. It grew a little louder Tuesday night, when Hernando clawed its way back from a 4-1 deficit, scoring four runs in the final three innings to snatch a win from a Pasco team that isn't known for letting victories slip away.

It was the third time this season the Leopards scored in the seventh to win. The first time was against five-time state champion Bartow. The second against a tough Gulf team.

For a group of girls who went 2-9 in games it trailed in last season, the turnaround begs an explanation. And the Leopards will give it to you.

"It's a new team, a new year," said senior first baseman Cheyenne Sellers, whose RBI triple in the bottom of the sixth tied it at 4-all. "We've got desire."

And that's all well and good.

The Leopards aren't cocky. They aren't even necessarily overconfident. They know how much talent the team has, but they also know that talent only equals success when it is mixed with chemistry. Last year, Hernando struggled in that department. It finished 17-9, but was upset in the district tournament.

So when people like Sellers and Vanderham talk about the quality of this year's team, it is good talk, positive talk.

But it is still just that: talk.

And talk isn't just cheap. It's free, particularly in February.

Beating teams like Bartow, Gulf and Pasco is great.

But beating them in April is the only thing that matters.

So here's the challenge:

You say this team is different, that it isn't the same squad that crumbled late last season?

Prove it.

You say the seventh-inning collapse against Zephyrhills last week only drew you closer?

Show it.

You say you've hung a sign in the clubhouse that reads, "What are you going to do to make yourself better today?"

Take it to heart.

Because, right now, it doesn't matter how close a team is or how much confidence its members have in each other, or if its coach can stand on a baseball diamond on a warm February night and say with complete sincerity, "Last year, the shoulders would slump, the faces would sag. This year, they fight. They don't give up."

The only time any of this matters is April.

So keep the shoulders straight, and the faces taut, even when the clutch hits do not come and the post-practice sprints seem as if they are a mile long.

There likely will be a time when you are the team getting beat in the seventh, or dropping a heartbreaker against a talented opponent.

Stay together. Keep the chemistry, and the confidence, and moxie you have developed over these past three weeks.

Because if it isn't there in April, it might as well have never been there at all.

David Murphy can be reached at dmurphy@sptimes.com or 352 848 1407.