Be nice! They drove all the way from Ohio

Published March 25, 2007

They're coming.

Rumbling through Pasco County with bats, bikinis and sunblock.

Sixteen of them trailed by a caravan of moms and dads hoping they can carve up the county this week with their tomahawks.

Relax! I'm talking softball, and it's a reference to the Braves, their mascot.

The Braves from Lewis Center Ohio Olentangy High are coming for five games in four days against Pasco County teams.

They wanted spring break on a Florida beach, and the best way to make it happen was coaxing first-year coach Marty Mearhoff into a trip to the Sunshine State.

Mearhoff realized moments after he met the girls in October that no spring break trip would have been a deal breaker in terms of winning them over.

"They asked what I thought of Florida," Mearhoff said. "I said it's a nice state. It's usually warm down there.

"Of course, I was kidding. I knew what they were getting at. I said, 'What's wrong with West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee?' They thought I was serious."

Mearhoff was thinking 2 1/2 hours on a plane, a few days at the beach, some games, some bonding and life is good.

There was one catch.

The girls didn't want to fly. They wanted to travel by bus, and they weren't joking.

"They thought it would be a great way to bond," Mearhoff said.

"I said, 'We can bond down there instead of taking a 20-hour bus ride.' "

Girls 2, Mearhoff 0.

Now that we know who's in charge, here's a little about the Braves.

They come from the proud state of Ohio with license plates proclaiming their state is the "Heart of it all."

Olentangy rhymes with flange, but the name comes from a river that cuts through central Ohio, Columbus and the Ohio State University campus.

Here's a tip.

Some of these girls are bound to be big Buckeyes fans. So mentioning you love the Florida Gators might not be a great way to meet a new friend.

The Braves were 14-13 last season, 3-7 in their district. They lost a pitcher, a catcher and a pair of infielders to graduation.

Nine of the girls have at least one season of varsity experience.

Mearhoff sent me some notes, so the next few lines might make it sound like I actually know something about the Braves.

They have a solid outfield with junior Sarah Wojta and senior captains Rachel Nugen and Erin Galant. Meghan Mahoney anchors the infield at shortstop, and Morgan and Shannon Flanagan tie down first and third base, respectively.

Kim Mowrey and Kate McClary are a pair of exceptional pitchers, and McClary, I'm told, has a pretty strong arm.

A number of girls are playing new positions, but senior leadership should factor in to keep the Braves composed.

By week's end, the Braves will know why folks grit their teeth on gridlocked U.S. 19. They might even have a sweet tooth for sweet tea, barbecue or some of those boiled peanuts that seem to be abundant in Zephyrhills.

And for a week, they'll get to know Pasco County on a personal level.

Who knows, maybe they'll even come back next year.

Izzy Gould can be reached at igould @tampabay.com or (727) 580-5315.