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'Baby Gators' can pitch

Land O'Lakes is blessed with three talented freshmen pitchers who can give ace Ashley Patton a break every once in a while.

By LINDA ROTHSTEIN

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 23, 2001


LAND O'LAKES -- Sometimes during a Land O'Lakes game, bells can be heard as a freshman pitcher takes the mound.

One might also hear the familiar strains of the Christmas carol Jingle Bells emanating from the dugout as the upperclassmen pay homage to their youngest teammates.

As part of a time-honored ritual by Gators upperclassmen, this year's freshmen are required to wear bells tied to their shoelaces as well as the initials "B.G.," which stands for "Baby Gator," on their socks.

In the past, tradition has required freshmen to play with sand in their back pockets or in their shoes, wear white tape on their legs or plaster Band-Aids all over their bodies.

"They make it seem fun," freshman pitcher Amanda Dyer said of the upperclassmen. "You come out here and it's like a big family. They help you calm down your nervousness and they add no pressure. It's fun being out here."

Last year, ace Ashley Patton had to toil alone on the mound after fellow junior Amanda Harmon went out with an injury. Patton no longer has to shoulder all the pitching duties as freshmen Dyer, April Slate and Lauren Patton allow the senior to take a game off once in a while. It's a big relief to Ashley Patton.

"I think it helps a lot," Ashley Patton said. "Knowing I don't have to pitch three games a week is nice on my arm. And for the future of this team, it's going to be awesome."

This year's freshmen hurlers represent the future of Land O'Lakes pitching. By starting a varsity game every few weeks, they're getting valuable experience for the time when Patton is lost to graduation.

"We're very fortunate to come up with a class of young pitchers that came up this year," coach Jerry English said. "Hopefully, all three of them will stick with the program for the next four years."

English rotates the three between varsity and junior varsity games, allowing each to get a start almost every week. Slate started the first varsity game of the season and threw a one-hitter to earn an 18-1 win over Class 4A, District 9 opponent Hudson.

"At first I was really nervous," Slate said. "But then, it got better. We have a really good defense so that helped too."

All three have different talents according to Ashley Patton and English. Dyer throws the ball hard, Slate is quick and has good control and Lauren Patton, Ashley's younger sister, has improved by leaps and bounds after a summer and fall working out with her sister.

"Right now, they're pretty equal," English said. "One has a strength that the other one might not have. But all together, they're very good ninth-grade pitchers right now."

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