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Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
Pasco had quite a season, finding maturity along the way to becoming the first county team to reach a state final since Ridgewood's 1992 title team. One county coach called Pasco "The True Team" a credit to the Pirates' depth and talent. The Pirates will fondly recall the 3-0 win against Okeechobee in the Class 4A state semifinal and the 14-strikeout gem pitched by Colena Lazar. Of course, the silver medal was tough to take after a 7-0 loss to Lake Wales. But there's always next season with just three seniors to replace.
2. Home run derby
Jessica Davis (Zephyrhills), Ashley Stager (Mitchell), Courtney Stager (Mitchell), Ashley Anderton (Zephyrhills) and Kalee Burchfield (Pasco) each grabbed her bat and started swinging for the fences. This was Pasco County's version of the home run chase, all in pursuit of the county's single-season record of eight home runs set by Olivia Kline (Mitchell) in 2006. No one reached eight though Davis, Courtney Stager and Anderton each finished with six. Many coaches believe the influx of home runs is the result of moving the pitcher's mound back, allowing batters extra time to see the ball.
3. Where have all the girls gone?
Five Pasco County schools couldn't field JV teams in 2007, leaving some to wonder what the long-term effects could be. Some expect levels to rise again next season, but we'll keep our eye on things to be sure county softball isn't simply fading away.
4. SAC champs struggle in district
Mitchell swept through the Sunshine Athletic Conference to claim the title, but struggled in Class 6A, District 7, which featured some of the toughest teams in that classification including Gaither and Countryside. Those teams met in the 6A region final with Countryside winning 4-3 to advance to the state semifinal.
5. Stagers headed to Florida State
Ashley Stager signs with Florida State. Courtney orally commits to Florida State. Seminoles coach JoAnne Graf found a gem in Pasco coach Shamalene Broner (used to be Wilson), so perhaps these girls can make it to the Hall of Fame one day.
1. Pasco 5, Groveland South Lake 2 (nine innings)
Extra-inning dramatics knocked South Lake pitcher Shaina Dent from her dominant perch. Lucy Schneider will be remembered for perhaps the biggest hit in Boneyard history with a three-run home run in the bottom of the ninth to send Pasco to the state semifinal.
2. Pasco 3, Okeechobee 0
The Class 4A state semifinal proved to be Pasco's most convincing victory of the postseason. Pirates ace Colena Lazar went the distance for 14 strikeouts. Lucy Schneider hit the winning RBI on a suicide squeeze. This was the biggest win in Pasco's history.
3. River Ridge 5, Zephyrhills 4
The Royal Knights had been out-clubbing opponents in early games and faced their first true test against Zephyrhills. The Bulldogs held a one-run lead heading into the bottom of the seventh when Michelle Miller tied it with a triple to score Michelle McKonly. Then with the bases loaded, Kelly Lamb took ball four to walk in the winning run.
4. Gulf 3, Land O'Lakes 2
This was a rare conference game during spring break. And it turned out a rare bunt by Devin Fellman in the sixth inning was key. The move sent Amanda Gardner to third base, and a Jessica Santoli single past first base brought Gardner across home plate for what proved to be the winning run.
5. Pasco 6, Land O'Lakes 5 (10 innings)
A great 10-inning game ended with a pair of key Land O'Lakes errors in the outfield. Abbie Boyd reached on an error in left, then scored after an error in center. The miscues overshadowed a great pitching duel between Michelle Bradley (13 strikeouts) and Colena Lazar (10 strikeouts).
1. Amber Hay, eighth-grader, Academy at the Lakes
A big reason Academy at the Lakes went 15-2 was because of eighth-grade hurler Amber Hay. With a fiery fastball and nasty changeup, she went 12-2 with a 1.68 ERA and 148 strikeouts. Good news for the Wildcats is she has four more seasons, beginning next year as a freshman.
2. Lucy Schneider, So., Pasco
When Lucy Schneider tagged a three-run home run to advance Pasco to its first state semifinal since 1994 I was stunned. What I didn't know is Schneider makes the most of big moments. None of the Pirates were surprised to see that ball sail over the leftfield fence.
3. Britney Mayhill, Fr., Gulf
Where the heck did Britney Mayhill come from? After Gulf struggled to a 5-6 start, Mayhill was one of the keys to helping the Bucs win 10 of 11 to claim the No. 4 seed in the Class 4A, District 8 tournament. She led the Bucs, hitting .506 and had 35 stolen bases.
4. Alexis Aubuchon, Jr., Land O'Lakes
Talk about your power hitters. You would never know at first glance staring at the tiny frame of arguably the Gators' top hitter. Aubuchon hit .446 with three home runs, three doubles and six triples. Now we're on to you.
5. Kristin Boetcher, So., Zephyrhills
Talk about the strong, silent type. Boetcher gained the praise of coach Craig Milburn after she led the Bulldogs in hitting (.460), had 11 doubles, 40 hits and 20 RBIs. Boetcher will be key for Zephyrhills in 2008.
1. Ashley Stager, Sr., Mitchell
The Florida State-bound shortstop lived up to her billing, hitting .485 with 33 hits and 25 RBIs. Should be worth keeping an eye on in college.
2. Michelle Bradley, So., Land O'Lakes
Argue all you want but Michelle Bradley is the most versatile player in the county. Blessed with a sharp mind and the tongue of a leader, the talented sophomore proved to be an ace pitcher, clutch hitter and sharp fielder.
3. Colena Lazar, So., Pasco
I've heard about the Lazar twins since they were in middle school. So to see Colena Lazar blossom into a dominant southpaw was of little surprise. She lived up to the hype and has two more seasons to establish herself as one of the best pitchers in county history.
4. Jessica Davis, Jr., Zephyrhills
The lone piece of the Bulldogs infield to return stepped into the leadership role and helped calm a youthful dugout to help focus Zephyrhills into a postseason team. Her senior season should be her best yet.
5. Julie Wisniewski, Sr., Gulf
The Pasco-Hernando Community College signee was her typical self, anchoring the shortstop position for the Bucs. Coach Rick Hohenthaner will miss her enthusiasm and leadership, though he won't need to travel far to follow her collegiate career.
A state finalist, home runs galore, great pitching and youth were all themes for Pasco County softball in 2007. Now sit back, reflect and ponder the future with Times staff writer Izzy Gould as he rewinds the season that was and gives some predictions for 2008.
Top 5 stories of 2007
Top 5 games
5 players who surprised me
5 players who didn't
Pasco losses three seniors from the Class 4A state semifinal team, though most key positions return. And Brianne Farmer should be back to full strength after a shoulder injury dogged her all year. Colena Lazar should shed the cast on her right hand, bringing back her big bat. Is a return to the state final possible? It could prove difficult with teams such as Groveland South Lake, Lake Wales and Naples all pretty much intact.
Just reaching regionals was an accomplishment for the Bulldogs, who fought off infighting and inexperience for an upset of Hernando in the 4A-8 tournament only to fall at South Lake in the region quarterfinal. Zephyrhills loses no one and should be even stronger than in 2007.
A midseason surge grabbed the attention of the county as Gulf landed key upsets to finish strong. With players such as Britney Mayhill, Jessica Santoli, Amy Bushong and Devin Fellman, the Bucs should be solid. But the loss of Julie Wisniewski could prove costly.
4. Land O'Lakes
Okay, Michelle Bradley, Lauren Smith, Sam Adamo and Alexis Aubuchon, you got our attention. This was Newsome's year. Big deal. The Gators lost some key games and proved inferior against the big opponents. But another season of experience should have the Gators in the hunt for a deeper trip into the state tournament.
The Mustangs can't replace Ashley Stager at shortstop, though they'll try. That said, Mitchell has plenty of firepower thanks to Tenisha Dixon, Courtney Stager and Olivia Kline. Should be another solid season for coach Scott Bisbe and the girls. Now if the defending SAC champions could only get out of that 6A-8 district.
6. River Ridge
The Royal Knights lose a key group of seniors, including starting pitcher Nicole Denney and the big bat of Michelle Miller. But coach Ernie Beck is a veteran coach and should have no trouble filling in the holes. He'll also have his core of players back including Michelle McKonly and Sarah Simon, so look for River Ridge to be back in the thick of things next season.