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Citrus counting on youthful veterans

By CAREY FREEMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 23, 2001


INVERNESS -- Scott Waters had heard the rumors about the two talented freshmen, but the Citrus coach wasn't about to be sold on words alone.

If Mettina Maggiore and Alycia LePage were truly as good as advertised, they would have to prove it on the field first.

Call it a rare occasion where reality lived up to the hype.

After watching the shortstop/second base duo in action on that first day of practice last season, Waters quickly realized his team would be set at those two positions for the next four years.

"I thought they lived up to everything I had heard about them," Waters said. "They came in as freshmen and said right away, "we can start."'

Entering their second season at Citrus, the consensus from Waters and others around the program is that LePage and Maggiore are better than they were as freshmen, hardened and wiser after a three-month run to the Senior Softball World Series as members of the Inverness All-Star team and five more months of club ball.

The daughters of Inverness All-Star manager Pete Maggiore and coach Al LePage, the two have been a team since their earliest days playing Little League.

Their fathers were well known for their softball abilities and, after several years of coaching and teaching, helped to create similar reputations for their daughters.

"I think the difference is the hundreds and thousands of ground balls we hit to them over the years," Pete Maggiore said. "We probably hit them 75-100 ground balls every practice and they are just real good on ground balls."

By the time they were ready to enter high school, the word was out: Maggiore and LePage would not only start, but contribute heavily to a team expected to make its fourth consecutive appearance in the state playoffs.

But things didn't quite go as planned. Early in the season, Maggiore took a hard throw in the face and was forced to miss 12 games after fracturing her maxilla (the upper portion of the jaw).

"That was very frustrating," Mettina Maggiore said. "I was so excited that I had made varsity as a freshman and I had to miss 12 games. It was hard to get back after that."

Though LePage would lead the county with a .429 average, 30 stolen bases and a near-perfect .987 fielding percentage, the Hurricanes would miss the playoffs for the first time in four years.

That has done nothing to ease the expectations for this team, which are great given the performance of many of its players over the summer. Helping matters is that LePage and Maggiore have kept pace with those expectations.

Maggiore, who was throwing with her father within days of last year's oral surgery, has spent the last five months playing for the Gainesville Gators, an American Softball Association traveling team and has improved dramatically.

LePage, meanwhile, spent weekends practicing and playing for the Clearwater Bombers -- considered one of the best traveling squads in the state. She was trying to stay in softball shape while her main focus was on volleyball and, most recently, basketball.

"I've caught on pretty easy," LePage said. "I guess it's because I've been playing for a traveling team during the fall. "

Waters seems confident his dynamic infield duo will find the form that wowed him and his assistants a year ago and that LePage's overall athleticism will help her overcome early-season rust.

"Mettina has definitely improved," Waters said. "One thing we talked to her about was strengthing her arm, and her arm strength has improved considerably this year. Plus, she has great range. If she can get to it, the chances are good she'll throw the runner out.

"And LePage, her range is basically from first to third. She can go anywhere and pick it up."

Young guns

Mettina Maggiore

GRADE: Sophomore.

POSITION: Shortstop.

QUOTABLE: "She was ready to get back as quick as she could, and I think that says a lot about Mettina. This year, she's stepped in and is doing a good job. I don't see any ill effects. She took a couple of bad hops during the first two weeks of practice. She took one on the chin and one in the eye, but she's still keeping her head down, her chin in, watching the ball into the glove and making plays." -- Citrus coach Scott Waters on Maggiore's recovery from a broken upper jaw.

* * *

Alycia Lepage

GRADE: Sophomore.

SOPHOMORE: Second base.

QUOTABLE: "I've played with Mettina as long as I've played softball. We are really good friends, best friends, and we talk a lot and that helps on the field. We just work good together." -- LePage on her relationship with Maggiore.

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