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The big four

By IZZY GOULD AND DAVID MURPHY
Published April 17, 2007


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SPRING HILL - Four power teams are vying for a pair of state tournament berths. That's the cold hard truth of Class 4A, District 8. The final four to this district tournament is a foregone conclusion for some based on what they have seen in an exciting cutthroat season. Pasco, Hernando, Zephyrhills and Gulf have endured the gauntlet and arguably have proved to be the four best based on records, seeding, talent and coaching. Pasco and Hernando have large targets hanging from their necks, both expected to advance to state. Anything less would be a devastating blow to those programs. Zephyrhills and Gulf are on the outside looking in, but have the ability to knock off the pair of favorites. What will happen? First pitch is scheduled for 4 p.m. today at Springstead.

The rest of the field

Keep an eye on Springstead. The Eagles beat Zephyrhills early in the season and suffered a 1-0 loss, not to mention the fact they upset Hernando in the first round last year. With star pitcher Becky Powell on the mound, Springstead has the ability to upset anyone. Nature Coast has a first-round matchup with Zephyrhills, which it has lost to twice by a combined score of 20-4. The Sharks did hold Pasco to just three runs in a 3-0 loss in mid-March.

The schedule

Today - (7) South Sumter vs. (2) Hernando, 4 p.m.; (8) Hudson vs (1) Pasco, 7 p.m.; Wednesday - (6) Nature Coast vs. (3) Zephyrhills, 4 p.m.; (5) Springstead vs (4) Gulf, 7 p.m.; Thursday - Hernando/South Sumter winner vs Zephyrhills/Nature Coast winner, 4 p.m.; Pasco/Hudson winner vs Gulf/Springstead winner, 7 p.m.; Friday - championship, 7 p.m. 

Zephyrhills

Seeded: No. 3

Record: 15-8 overall, 10-4 district

The star: Jessica Davis, Jr., SS/P

The junior shortstop anchors a revamped infield from a year ago to give the Bulldogs some stability along with a leading voice. Davis also occasionally comes in as a closer on the mound to sew up any unfinished business. Most impressive is her batting average of .470 and her six home runs.

How they can win: With their bats. Players such as Ashley Anderton, Naye Naye Black and Kristin Boettcher need to bring their clutch hitting. Boettcher has been particularly solid, batting a team-leading .492. The Bulldogs should have little trouble cruising past Nature Coast for the third time. That leaves Hernando, which was a split in the season series.

How they can lose: A lot of Zephyrhills' losses have come down to pitching. Kaitlyn Hutchison seems to have come around with a 4-5 record, and Andrea Durrett has blossomed into a nice pitcher with a 6-1 record and 2.01 ERA. The defense also needs to make key plays to help keep the pitchers in the game.

Gulf

Seeded: No. 4

Record: 17-7 overall, 9-5 district

The star: Jessica Santoli, So., OF/SS

The sophomore leftfielder was forced to move from centerfield to left, then substituted briefly at shortstop when Julie Wisniewski suffered a leg injury and missed three games. Santoli has made the adjustments appear flawless, earning the praise of her coach. Santoli has been among Gulf's stats leaders in RBIs 27, home runs (two), hits (31), stolen bases (17) and at-bats (65).

How they can win: Keep the fire alive. The Bucs have been hot after a 5-5 start, winning 12 of their past 14. That gives Gulf its highest win total since the fastpitch era began in 1992. Pitching has been a big key with Amy Bishong's 8-0 record and 2.02 ERA. Alisha Maxey is 8-6 with 47 strikeouts and a 2.26 ERA.

How they can lose: By feeling intimidated by the top three seeds, who registered five of Gulf's seven losses this season. Gulf proved it was a different team when it headed into Zephyrhills for a rare 9-0 victory and has yet to see Pasco or Hernando since snapping out of the funk.

Pasco

Seeded: No. 1

Record: 18-4 overall, 13-1 district

The star: Colena Lazar, So., P/1B

Meet Pasco County's most powerful pitcher. Lazar won't hesitate to throw fastballs inside to keep batters off-balance. Pirates catcher Kalee Burchfield calls her intimidating. Lazar, at last check, led Pasco County with 127 strikeouts and an ERA of 0.88. She is an 11-3 southpaw and the primary starter. Pasco's pitchers have thrown a combined 10 shutouts and have allowed two runs or fewer in 15 games.

How they can win: Pitching is one key. If Lazar can't make it happen there's always senior Liz Garcia, who is 7-0 with a 0.87 ERA. Batting is another key. Pasco coach Shamalene Broner is blessed with a lineup of hitters from top to bottom. Burchfield garners a lot of attention for her .604 batting average and three home runs. Lucy Schneider is another key with her team-leading 24 RBIs. And defensively the Pirates are anchored by Brianne Farmer at shortstop, who is batting an impressive .466.

How they can lose: Hernando can answer this question. The Leopards stole a come-from-behind 5-4 victory from Pasco in the final innings on Feb. 27. Hernando scored four runs in the final three innings. The Pirates have gone 13-1 since the debacle. Broner attributed the loss to mental breakdowns. Pasco seems to have learned its lesson.

Hernando

Seeded: No. 2

Record: 18-5 overall, 11-3 district

The star: Katelyn Vanderham, Sr., P/OF

The senior pitcher/outfielder leads the Leopards in hitting (.544), RBIs (19) and extra-base hits (12). When she is healthy, she is the team's top pitcher, too. Though a chest injury has kept her off the mound much of the season, she should be ready to go for the district tournament.

How they can win: If Hernando gets strong performances on the mound and in the field, there is no reason it can't be in the district final game. In the Leopards' first loss to Zephyrhills, a potential semifinal opponent, they held an 8-3 lead in the bottom of the ninth before giving up six runs to lose. In the second loss, they had some fielding and baserunning mistakes and didn't have Vanderham on the mound. Hernando will hit the ball - four players have a batting average above .400. If it plays well in the other facets of the game, it could easily be district champ.

How they can lose: Any of a number of ways. Last year Hernando ran into a hot pitcher in Springstead's Becky Powell. "This time of year," coach Kevin Bittinger said, "all it takes is for your pitcher to have that type of game." The Leopards could struggle if their pitching lets them down, or if they continue to commit some of the mental mistakes that have plagued them this season.

Izzy Gould can be reached at igould@tampabay.com or (727) 580-5315. David Murphy can be reached at dmurphy@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1407.

 

[Last modified April 16, 2007, 22:50:31]


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