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Sickles girls grab top state honors

The softball team approached each game aggressively, staking its claim to the title.

By FRANK PASTOR

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 13, 2001


AUBURNDALE -- You think they saw this coming? You bet they did.

From the moment Tiffany Stewart's fly ball found a Miami Palmetto outfielder's glove last May, ending Sickles' first bid for a state championship, the Gryphons believed 2001 would be their year.

You could see it in their play and hear it in their voices Wednesday and Thursday at the Auburndale Softball Complex.

"We can do it," senior pitcher Julie Henneke said after Sickles pounded Miami Sunset 9-1 in Wednesday's Class 6A semifinal.

"We knew we had it," junior first baseman Laura Templeton bragged after Thursday's 7-2 win over Palm Beach Gardens.

A number of factors contributed to Sickles' first state championship -- balanced hitting, Henneke's pitching and strong fan support, to name a few. But none was as important -- or evident -- as the Gryphons' unshakable belief in themselves.

Sickles (24-4) did not play scared, trying to avoid the mistakes that led to the 6-5 loss to Miami Palmetto in last year's state final. The Gryphons made plenty of mistakes, with nine errors and 21 runners left on base in their two final four victories.

Rather, Sickles approached each game aggressively, staking its claim to the title and daring every other team to wrest it away.

Teams are not supposed to dominate their opponents the way the Gryphons did throughout the post-season.

Sickles outscored Durant and Gaither 11-3 in the district tournament, then rolled over Sarasota Riverview, Boone, University, Miami Sunset and Palm Beach Gardens by an aggregate score of 30-3 in the regional and state tourneys.

Seemingly immune to playoff jitters, the Gryphons used the first inning -- a time when most teams are just settling in -- to take control, jumping out to 2-0 leads in each of their final four victories.

"I think it's because of last year that they came out so hard," head coach Tammy Overcash said. "They wanted it."

Sickles' confidence might seem unusual for a team that started one freshman (rightfielder Nicole Forbes), two sophomores (catcher Darlene Hollister and third baseman Jackie Leppla), three juniors (shortstop Tiffany Clark, centerfielder Stewart and Templeton) and just three seniors (Henneke, leftfielder Casey Yanson and second baseman Daira Rivera).

But the Gryphons were prepared for the pressures of the post-season since so many played in state and national tournaments as members of the Citrus Park Little League or travel teams such as the Tampa Mustangs and Clearwater Bombers.

Add the fact that Sickles was playing in the final four for the third time in the program's four seasons, and it is not hard to understand how the Gryphons could expect so much from themselves.

"I've been blessed with a lot of talented athletes who have heart," Overcash said, "and they showed that."

They knew it, too.

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