Early hardships help forge a stronger team

Chiefs didn't fold during prolonged absence of two of their standouts.

Published May 11, 2007

TAMPA - It's been a strange, stressful season, but in the end a good one, according to Chamberlain coach Bob Diez and his players, two in particular: sophomore Alex Hartshorn and freshman Stephanie Medina.

First, the strange, stressful part:

For 14 games from Feb. 21-April 6, Hartshorn and Medina were benched while the Florida High School Athletic Association investigated alleged recruiting violations.

The investigation, based on an anonymous e-mail sent to the FHSAA, led to March 9 when the Chiefs presented their case to an appeals committee, which almost immediately denied their request to play.

The committee declared the players ineligible because they allegedly transferred to the school after a club softball coach with ties to the Chiefs recruited them to Chamberlain.

Hartshorn and Medina said they left the committee room in Bartow "crying and stunned."

"We thought we had done everything right, followed all the rules, " said Hartshorn, a pitcher who transferred from Pasco High. "We felt we were being punished for no good reason."

Diez said he was "furious" and pretty much stayed that way until April 6 when Hartshorn and Medina, along with their families and lawyers, made a second run at the appeals committee, which overturned its ruling.

Now for the good:

"When we told the team that Alex and Stephanie were coming back you've never heard so much cheering, " Diez said. "It was the best feeling ever."

A feeling, Medina said, that has gathered strength to today, when Chamberlain 28-2 plays Pensacola Pace (23-5) at 5 p.m.

"I wouldn't want to go through all that again, " said Medina, who along with Hartshorn has practiced every day with the team. "But in a way there was some good in it because it brought all of us closer together."

Said Hartshorn: "The team could have gotten mad and said we're going to quit. Instead everyone said we're not going to let this or anything else beat us."

Today Hartshorn (5-1, 1.35 ERA) gets the start while Medina will start as a designated hitter, outfielder or perhaps at first base.

If Chamberlain wins Brittany Cavalli will start Saturday at 4 p.m. in the final, a fitting scenario because Cavalli was arguably the team's MVP in Hartshorn's and Medina's 14-game absence. In that span, Cavalli won every game on the mound.

"I was just doing my part, " Cavalli said. "It's nice to have a rotation (with Cavalli and Hartshorn) alternating starts, because alternating can help keep you a little fresher. But at the same time I think having to start all those games made me a better player. It all worked out, I'd say, for all of us."

Scott Purks can be reached at purks@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3353.