Lions happy with progress

Published April 26, 2007

On the outside, Hernando Christian's 6-3 loss to Orlando Christian on Tuesday did not look much different from last season or the previous two, but according to Lions coach Sue Murphy, this season's defeat was a big step.

Hernando Christian, winning its district for the fourth straight season, is accustomed to hosting but not winning playoff openers.

The Lions were dominated 16-4 by Central Florida Christian last year, continuing a trend. In 2005, the program was downed 14-4 by Santa Fe Catholic, and in 2004, the result was 16-1 against Santa Fe Catholic.

A young team, the pressure of performing in the playoffs might have been a bit harder than the team realized at the time.

The Lions came into the playoffs with an 18-3 record in 2006, similar to the 17-2 mark they held this time around. The question for Murphy and the rest of her team quickly became how they would handle yet another attempt at postseason success.

"This game, despite the score, showed a lot of growth on (the team's) part," Murphy said. "We could have folded after getting down early, but they all fought hard."

The early deficit came at the expense of a tough first inning for the Lions' infield defense. Two sketchy infield singles and an error showed some nerves still existed, and Orlando Christian jumped ahead 5-0.

But there were differences between all of HCA's previous appearances in the playoffs and this one. This was the first time the Lions were not victims of the 10-run rule. And HCA's leaders, who had experienced adversity in the past, showed mental toughness.

Juniors Meredith Hanshaw and Mary Ellen Langley have been part of the program in for years and made up the pitcher-catcher battery Tuesday. Despite defensive miscues around her, Hanshaw buckled down, retiring 12 straight batters at one point.

Meanwhile Langley picked off two runners who were caught leaning and easily outplayed her Orlando Christian counterpart, Chelsea Coats, not giving up a single passed ball to Coats' two.

"It's frustrating because I think we were a better team than they were," Langley said, "but you can't make mental mistakes and get away with it."