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Scattered particles finally bond

By IZZY GOULD
Published April 24, 2007


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ZEPHYRHILLS - Give credit to Craig Milburn for keeping it real.

The Zephyrhills coach stood within earshot of his dugout Monday at practice.

He skipped the tap dance.

"I didn't think we were one of the top two teams in the district," Milburn said of claiming a state tournament berth after finishing second in the Class 4A, District 8 tournament. "I knew we'd give Pasco a fight. Outside of Pasco any one of us - Hernando, Gulf or Zephyrhills - could have finished second."

Does Zephyrhills (19-9) deserve to be in tonight's Class 4A region quarterfinal at Groveland South Lake (23-3)?

The Bulldogs knocked off Hernando in the semifinal 5-2 to claim a spot in the state tournament, so technically yes. But there were plenty of times this season when Milburn and others wondered if Zephyrhills had lost its swagger.

Take a 4-2 loss at Springstead in the season opener.

The Bulldogs were playing with a revamped infield, two new pitchers and plenty of other questions. This was not a fast team, nor was it defensively sound. The only constants were hitting and an internal struggle to simply find camaraderie.

"We weren't a team," sophomore Kristin Boettcher said. "It was catty in the beginning. Girls would talk about each other. There were fights. Now they've gotten over their differences."

Losing big games didn't help ease tension.

There was a 5-4 loss to River Ridge, an 8-5 loss to Mitchell, a 9-0 loss at home to Gulf, a 4-3 loss to Land O'Lakes, a season sweep by rival Pasco.

Milburn continued to tinker with his infield, outfield and pitching. Like a mechanic, he finally got the engine to turn over. The Bulldogs went on to win seven of their final nine games.

What changed?

Bulldogs starting pitcher Kaitlyn Hutchison threw some of her best pitches. Milburn found a steady third baseman in Haven Mills, a solid rightfielder in Jessica McCall and a surprisingly hot bat in Boettcher (.464 average).

"She's had a great year as a sophomore," Milburn said. "She's knocked the cover off the ball. You count on Jessica (Davis), Ashley Anderton and Naye Naye (Black). Boettcher's been a pleasant surprise."

Now Zephyrhills gets a shot to silence critics with a trip to face arguably the state's hottest pitcher in Eagles junior Shaina Dent.

She pitched 131/3 innings of perfect ball in her past two games and struck out all 21 batters faced for a perfect game in the semifinal.

Milburn said he knows all he needs to know about Dent, who came to Zephyrhills three seasons ago and pitched a 3-0 shutout.

"That really was my first lesson in the riseball," Milburn said. "Everyone keeps talking about the riseball in this game. She's really the one I saw throw it pitch after pitch. It really gets you out."

Davis said the Bulldogs have faced a couple of riseball pitchers. The key to winning those battles is laying off the pitch as rises above the strike zone.

"You see it coming in but it's hard to adjust to," Davis said. "...When you wait on it you get more hits."

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

 

Softball region quarterfinals

All games at 7 p.m. Admission is $5

Class 5A

River Ridge (21-6) at Newsome (20-5)

Something of note: Newsome pitcher Ashley Stubbs has an 8-4 record and has struck out 79 batters without allowing a home run.

Bloomingdale (17-10) at Land O'Lakes (22-5)

Something of note: Gators pitcher Michelle Bradley struck out 15 in perhaps her best outing of the season to defeat the Royal Knights for the district tournament crown.

How they got here: Land O'Lakes defeated River Ridge 5-2 in the 5A-7 final; Newsome defeated Bloomingdale 5-0 in 5A-8 final.

Class 4A

Zephyrhills (19-9) at Groveland South Lake (23-3)

Something of note: South Lake pitcher Shaina Dent pitched a perfect 131/3 innings in her past two games, which included a perfect game in the district semifinal where she struck out all 21 batters she faced.

Harmony (19-7) at Pasco (23-4)

Something of note: Pirates pitcher Colena Lazar pitched a complete game, but was cold early, allowing the Bulldogs to score four runs in the district final. Look for her to bounce back strong.

How they got here: Pasco defeated Zephyrhills 6-4 in the 4A-8 final; Groveland South Lake defeated Harmony 4-3 in the 4A-7 final.

 

[Last modified April 24, 2007, 00:17:31]


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