It's been 13 seasons since any Hernando County fast-pitch softball team has garnered three tournament titles in one season. But that mark may fall within the next 10 days.
The county record for tourney titles (three) was established by the 2000 Hernando Lady Leopards under Ernie Chatman when the Brooksville nine captured its own tournament in addition to the Class 3A, District 6 and the 3A-Region II events.
A year later, that mark was tied in 2001 by the Purple and Gold by capturing the Pasco High Tourney, 3A-8 and 3A-II.
Coincidentally both those HHS teams reached the FHSAA Finals.
Since that point, no county squad has ever garnered more than two tourney victories.
The Lady Leopards, who captured the Mar. 21-22 Leopard Slam III, depart this morning for a 172-mile trip to Lee County's Cape Coral and Mariner High Girls Softball Tourney.
The eight-team affair guarantees its participants three games across today and Saturday at either Cape Coral or Cape Coral-Mariner.
The field has a Lee County flavor featuring: Hernando (20-2), Cape Coral (13-6), Naples-St. John Neumann Catholic (5-6), Lehigh Acres-Lehigh (10-6), Mariner (8-12), Lehigh Acres-East Lee County (2-10), Cape Coral-Island Coast (0-16) and Cape Coral-Ida Baker (12-6).
HHS opens action at 7 p.m. tonight against host Cape Coral.
With a win, HHS would tangle at 10 a.m. Saturday with the Lehigh/St. John Neumann survivor.
With two wins, the Purple and Gold would play in Saturday's championship final beginning at 5 p.m.
Hernando had tied the school record with 13 straight wins before falling Tuesday night in New Port Richey to River Ridge, 9-1.
HHS opted against throwing the defending Hernando Today Player of the Year, senior right-hander Courtney Riddle (20-1), against the Royal Knights for three reasons.
The first was to conserve from the expected wear and tear on Riddle this weekend and most importantly, not to allow RRHS' talented batters to close the gap by facing her for a second time prior to the state series.
Lastly, HHS skipper Kevin Bittinger wanted to utilize backup Lauren Moore against a quality opponent.
Despite no one in this weekend's field with more than 13 victories except for Hernando, plus four teams with losing records, Mariner athletic director Vito Mennona said on handicapping the field, "There is no clear-cut favorite."
North Fort Myers won this event in 2012, but it was not played in 2013.
"We chose to play in Cape Coral to see something new and play different teams," explained the ninth-year Bittinger, who arrives 141-90 lifetime. "Going into a tournament, it's not always about the teams you'll face. It's also about the timing."
On the field, "We don't know anything more than what's online," admitted Bittinger. "Around here, if you get 15 or more wins, that means you're pretty good. But by just looking at won-lost records, you really don't know what kind of softball they play."
HHS' goals according to Bittinger were to see different teams and bring the team together prior to the beginning of the state series at Tom Varn Park Tuesday for the 5A-7 Tournament.
"We know as a team we didn't have to play three more ranked teams to see what type of team we are," pointed out Bittinger. "Trust me we're going down there to win it."
At a Glance
What - Cape Coral and Mariner Girls Softball Tournament II.
Who - Eight teams each guaranteed playing three games featuring: Hernando (20-2), Cape Coral (13-6), Naples-St. John Neumann Catholic (5-6), Lehigh Acres-Lehigh (10-6), Mariner (8-12), Lehigh Acres-East Lee County (2-10), Cape Coral-Island Coast (0-16) and Cape Coral-Ida Baker (12-6). North Fort Myers won this event in 2012. The tourney was not held last year.
Where - Played at Mariner and Cape Coral campuses.
When - Today and Saturday
At Stake - Team trophies for first- and second-place finishers.