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Hartley: Leopards will be on prowl next year

By GREG AUMAN

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 13, 2001


AUBURNDALE -- For the second straight year, Hernando saw its season end with a lopsided loss. But for the second consecutive year, the Leopards' returning players can find consolation -- not in how it all ended but where it ended.

For the second season in a row, Hernando will return seven starters from a final four team, meaning Thursday's 9-1 setback to Miami Gulliver Prep is, again, motivation for the next squad.

"Getting a taste of it like I got last year, I wanted it," said pitcher Chrissy Hartley, one of three Hernando seniors. "They're going to want it, too. After being here and seeing what it's like to be here, I guarantee they're going to fight all year long for it."

In addition to the returning players, the Leopards expect to have back the members who were dismissed from the team last month -- talented freshmen Ashley Rogers and Christen Baldwin, junior Christene Dennis (a two-year starter in the outfield) and reserve Whitney Griffin.

Those four have kept in contact with the club, attending some games even, and the remaining players don't seem to be harboring any grudges against them.

"It's not like we've just disowned them," shortstop Kimi Olmstead said. "Everyone makes mistakes. "We've got to get on from that," she said. "They're going to be key players next year, and we can't look at them badly. It's over and done with."

Rogers and Baldwin managed to finish among the county's top hitters despite playing just a little more than half of the season. Both will have a major chance to help fill the void left by the graduation of Hartley.

Hartley pitched more than 80 percent of the Leopards' innings and finished with their top batting average, earning Gulf Coast Athletic Conference Player of the Year honors. Olmstead and sophomore Carolyn Gant will return with pitching experience, but replacing Hartley isn't a job for any single player.

Hernando took the field Thursday with four sophomores -- first baseman Gant, second baseman Kristi Langworthy, third baseman Scottisha Scrivens and outfielder Nicole Young. Each showed strides in the final month of the season. Gant pitched the last three innings of a perfect game, Langworthy had four extra-base hits in the post-season, Scrivens provided a solid bat in the middle of the lineup and Young emerged as the club's best bunter, reaching base on five straight bunts in her final two games.

Hernando will lose catcher Megan Orendorf and Carmen Byrd, but next year's team will have five players with more than one final four trip under their belts. Olmstead leads a senior class that will include outfielders Jessica Maggard, Ellen Widboom and Carol Russell.

Most importantly, those returning players were able to get a taste of the state tournament and a sense of the challenge awaiting any squad that makes it to Auburndale -- enough to make the Leopards want to come back next season.

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