Early offense and solid pitching carry the Gryphons to the Class 6A final for the second consecutive season.
By FRANK PASTOR
© St. Petersburg Times, published May 10, 2001
AUBURNDALE -- Second-place isn't enough for Sickles anymore.
After advancing to the state semifinals two of the past three seasons and losing in last year's championship game, the Gryphons are determined to leave the Auburndale Softball Complex today with nothing less than their first state title.
"They know what to expect," Sickles coach Tammy Overcash said. "They used to say, 'The pressure's off. We made it.' They can't say that anymore."
The Gryphons' bats spoke volumes Wednesday.
Eight Sickles players had hits, and Julie Henneke pitched a four-hitter as the Gryphons roughed up Miami Sunset 9-1 in the Class 6A semifinals.
Sickles (23-4) will play Palm Beach Gardens (27-7) in the championship game tonight at 8. Palm Beach Gardens defeated Edgewater 5-3 in the other semifinal.
"We better do well," Henneke said. "I'm pumped. We can do it."
Sickles didn't leave anything to chance against Miami Sunset, scoring two runs in the first inning and four in the fourth to jump out to a 6-0 lead.
Henneke opened the scoring after Miami Sunset third baseman Katherine Reyes fielded Tiffany Clark's bunt and threw wildly into rightfield for a three-base error. Darlene Hollister's single to center drove home Clark.
After stranding runners on first and third in the second inning and wasting Hollister's leadoff double in the third, Sickles struck for four runs in the fourth.
The Gryphons loaded the bases with one out before Tiffany Stewart drew a walk, scoring Jackie Leppla. Laura Templeton drove home two runs with a single to right-centerfield and freshman Nicole Forbes added an RBI single.
Templeton's two-run single in the seventh gave Sickles a 9-0 lead.
"They had a look about them tonight," Overcash said. "They were focused."
Templeton led Sickles' 15-hit attack with three hits and four runs batted in. Henneke, Clark, Hollister, Forbes and Leppla had two hits apiece.
Henneke showed the form that prompted Boston University to offer her a scholarship.
Facing a Miami Sunset team that entered the game hitting .301, the senior left-hander struck out four while allowing no earned runs, four hits, three walks and a hit batsman.
Henneke's shutout bid ended when Miami Sunset scored an unearned run with two outs in the seventh. Second baseman Daira Rivera's error was one of six committed by the Sickles defense. "Julie knew she had a job to do tonight, and she got it done," Overcash said.
Sickles touched Miami Sunset pitcher Jennifer Diaz for six runs on 10 hits and two walks in four innings. Diaz, who entered the game with a 15-3 record, was replaced by Shannon Hernandez in the fifth.
Henneke said Sickles was relieved to beat a Miami team after falling 6-5 to Miami Palmetto in last season's state championship game.
"You could tell," she said. "Our whole team was totally pumped."