A generation ago, fast-pitch softball was introduced to Hernando County.
Jill Penderghest, a 1991 Hernando High graduate, during her days playing shortstop for the Lady Leopards. FILE PHOTO
In 1990, Hernando, Springstead and Central High’s slow-pitch softball programs transitioned to fast-pitch.
With the switch, all of the FHSAA’s slow-pitch records were expunged – including the existence of Hernando High’s 1984 state title under Tom Varn.
One of the links to Hernando’s final slow-pitch squad of 1989 was shortstop Jill Christine Penderghest.
The 5-foot-3 Penderghest was one of the backbones of the team and an original pioneer of the fast-pitch era in Hernando County.
Penderghest was one of the reasons HHS captured back-to-back-to-back district titles from 1989-91.
In her three seasons on the Lady Leopards’ diamond, the younger of two children to Tom and Sally Penderghest earned three varsity letters, but was also named All-Gulf Coast Athletic Conference in 1990-91.
As a senior, the Philadelphia-born Penderghest was feted as the GCAC’s Player of the Year.
Brent Gaustad, who guided the HHS reigns from 1991-94, called Penderghest “the best softball player to ever play at Hernando High School.”
After hitting .398 and driving in 22 runs for the 23-4 1990 team under Mike Majeske, Penderghest hit .581 with 44 runs batted in in 1991, collecting 55 safeties while stealing 53 bases in 53 attempts.
After the 23-3 1991 campaign, Penderghest signed an athletic scholarship with St. Petersburg Junior College.
After two seasons with the Lady Titans, Penderghest signed on with the NAIA’s University of West Florida Argonauts in Pensacola.
As a senior, Penderghest continued to excel as she was feted as All-Conference with the Argos.
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Penderghest recalls her parents relocating to a remote two-acre Masaryktown residence in 1979.
“There’s never really been a lot to do in Brooksville,” said Penderghest. “My father, my brother and I spent a lot of time in backyard playing pitcher, catch and second base. We played ball for hours – there wasn’t a whole lot else to do.”
Penderghest was raised a baseball player until, she said, “I got tired of getting hit by pitches” and switched to softball.
She remembers playing recreation baseball and softball in Masaryktown.
At Powell Middle School, she played softball as a seventh- and eighth-grader and anchored shortstop.
Upon matriculating to Hernando High, she followed her two passions: playing shortstop and playing the alto sax for the school’s Royal Regiment Band.
“I was kind of a nerd, but I loved playing the sax,” said Penderghest. “I was in the band all four years.”
On why she stuck with softball, “I’ve always liked the offensive and defensive aspects of the game,” she said. “I hit decent for my size.
“Coach Gaustad was one of the reasons I stuck with it,” she added. “He always had constructive criticism whether I drove in four runs or whether I struck out three times.”
On climbing up the ladder of success, “I was a perfectionist,” said Penderghest. “If I was hitting, say .400, I wanted to hit .500. I always thought hard work would make me a better player.”
Gaustad, who served as an assistant to Majeske in 1989-90, made himself available to his players.
“Coach Gaustad made the transition a lot smoother from slow-pitch to fast-pitch,” recalled Penderghest. “If you wanted him to hit you 500 balls on a Saturday afternoon, he’d take the time to do it. He did whatever you asked him to make you a better player.”
On the changeover, “I loved the transition. I became a much better hitter,” detailed Penderghest. “I liked the whole faster pace of the game. To me, going from slow-pitch to fast-pitch was a totally different game.”
According to Penderghest, softball’s glove work separates the players.
“Not that toot my horn much, but I gave everything I had to defense,” she remarked. “The ability to play good defense separates the good players from the best players.”
Not that everything came easy to Penderghest.
After her first semester at St. Pete, “I was ready to quit,” she recalled. “In high school there are a few good players, but in college everyone’s really good and I didn’t do as well I thought I should be. Having (HHS center fielder) Norma (Coleman) there made it easier on me.
“(Two-time All-GCAC pitcher) Liz (Krassmann) was a year ahead of me at St. Pete and having her there really helped, too.”
In rewinding her experience with the Argos, “College was a blast. I enjoyed every minute in Pensacola,” said Penderghest.
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She graduated from West Florida with a Bachelor’s degree in business administration and a minor in marketing.
After college, she originally landed a position with Coca-Cola and also started up her own business.
In October, she’ll be celebrating her 10th year with Ring Power as a used equipment manager.
“When I started in 2004, it was crazy. Construction was everywhere and we were so busy,” she recalled. “Then when the economy dumped, we were losing people left and right. Right now, business is great. Ring Power is a fantastic company to work for.”
These days, Penderghest calls America’s oldest city – St. Augustine – home. Her mother also lives in town, while her father still resides in Masaryktown and brother resides in Spring Hill.
“I love living here,” said the 41-year-old Penderghest, who has never married, but has been in a long-term relationship with her boyfriend.
“I’ve lived in Pensacola, Orlando and Brooksville, but St. Augustine is awesome,” said Penderghest. “There are plenty of sports here and plenty of beaches – it never gets tiring.”
Penderghest remains active playing on a local co-ed softball team with her boyfriend while also playing flag football, too.
To Penderghest’s disbelief, many of her achievements have lasted the test of time.
However, several of her standards are on the brink of being snapped.
In the Class 5A, District 7 final against Nature Coast Technical, HHS junior catcher Megan Lane rapped her county-leading 56th base hit – that surpassed Penderghest’s 1991 mark of 55.
Penderghest also held the school record with 49 runs scored in 1991. Lane surpassed that mark in last week’s regional quarterfinal against Dunedin.
The former standout holds the school record for finest single-season batting average at .581 in 1991.
Lane is threatening that mark with a county-leading .564 average.
Penderghest was surprised her achievements have lasted this long.
“I didn’t know the things I did nearly 25 years ago have lasted that long,” she said. “I’m grinning from ear-to-ear; that’s neat to hear. Records give the girls something to shoot at – a goal to reach. Records are made to be broken, so my records need to be broken.”
On handing down advice to any aspiring softball players, “I’d tell them to listen to their coach and strive to make them proud,” she said. “When you do that, you’ll become a better player.”