Whether at the plate, toeing the rubber, flashing the leather or simply leading by example during practice, Hernando High junior Courtney Lynne Riddle stood out among her peer group in 2013.
She was the unanimous choice of the Hernando Today staff and area coaches as the Player of the Year.
Riddle, 17, a four-time All-County selection (once with Hernando Christian Academy, three times with Hernando) helped guide the Lady Leopards to within one victory of their third-ever Final Four berth in 24 seasons.
The Purple and Gold finished with a county-best 22-8 won-lost campaign highlighted by a 12-game win streak - its longest since 2000's Final Four appearance in Auburndale.
Riddle's crew not only captured its second straight Hernando County championship (fourth in eight seasons under skipper Kevin Bittinger), but snapped an 0-for-15 tournament drought by capturing the rugged Class 5A, District 7 Tournament at Brooksville's Tom Varn Park.
HHS' county-best ninth district crown served as the school's first since 2004 under Doug Rogers.
In Bittinger's first-ever regional playoff run, the Brooksville run concluded at the hands of highly-touted and senior-dominated St. Johns-Creekside in the 5A-Region II final, 10-0.
Creekside, one of six district championship teams the Lady Leopards faced in their meat grinder schedule, concluded as 5A state runner-up, losing to Lake Wales, 1-0.
The Lady Leopards' ascent revolved around Riddle's all-around abilities.
After not committing an error in 100 chances in 2012, Riddle converted 93-of-98 chances (.949) behind a team-high 81 assists.
At the plate, Riddle feasted on opposing pitching to the tune of 43-for-96 for a career-best .448 batting average.
Riddle's remarkable season featured a team-high 14 extra-base hits highlighted by a career-best 13 doubles and 42 runs batted in - setting two new school records (old doubles standard was 12 set by Chrissy Hartley in 2000-01 and Tana McDaniel in 2012, and the old RBI mark of 39 was set by Colleen Colburn and Lisa Picciano in 1994).
On the rubber, the 5-foot-8 right-hander completed a career-high 26 games in 29 starts.
In all, Riddle led the local circuit with six shutouts.
Riddle also notched 177 strikeouts in a career-best 188.2 innings pitched, finishing 22-7 overall - only one win shy of tying the HHS school single-season record for pitching victories set by Hartley in 2001 and April Talbert (1994).
"I'm surprised I got it," said Riddle of the POY announcement. "It's a great thing. To me, credit belongs to my teammates and coaches - they made this happen."
Riddle, the only child of David and Rachel Riddle, was born and raised in Brooksville.
Based on Riddle's softball prowess, some fans might think that she was raised on a diamond.
Actually, her initial athletic endeavor was as a cheerleader for the Hernando Youth League. She recalls cheering for three seasons.
She also participated in gymnastics for a couple years.
To remain busy, Riddle also played HYL soccer for four campaigns - ranging from goalkeeper to defense.
"Most of my friends played soccer, so I played," she recalled. "Deep down I didn't think I had a future with it. I stopped playing soccer when I played Ponytails (at age 10) at the Dixie level."
The memory of Riddle's early days in softball remains ingrained.
"I was terrible," she candidly explained. "I couldn't catch a fly ball to save my life. When I batted, I always stepped forward with the wrong foot.
"I wanted to be as good as some of my friends. .The reason I started to get better was I wanted to make All-Stars, too."
In her formative years, she would go with her father to the field and spend countless hours playing catch, shagging flies and taking extra cuts at the plate before and after practice.
Riddle credits McDaniel for always wanting to practice and former Lady Leopard mentor Ernie Chatman for giving her sage advice on improving her swing and bettering her footwork.
Of all the planks to Riddle's game, she takes the most pride toeing the rubber.
Across five seasons on the bump, Riddle has twirled 65 complete games in 88 starts, hurling a combined 603 innings.
She carries better than a 3-to-1 ratio in career strikeouts (555) to walks allowed (180).
In two seasons at HCA - where she guided the Lady Lions to back-to-back Final Four berths - and three seasons at Hernando, she's totaled 14 shutouts behind a sterling 67-28 won-lost slate.
Next season, her fourth with the Purple and Gold, she stands to rewrite the school's pitching records.
"Pitching is where I can make the most difference for the team," emphasized Riddle. "When you're in the circle my mindset is being focused on each pitch."
Riddle admits that as she's gotten older, she throws with more miles per hour.
"The older I've gotten, the harder I've thrown," she insists. "I don't normally throw extremely hard. But I've gotten much better on my mechanics. I have five pitches that I utilize and I think I have three I can throw for strikes at any time."
Riddle's rise was based on, "Mentally and physically improving. I was much more consistent. I thought I handled myself better; I grew up a lot," she said. "I can't think 'I've got this' - I have to learn to throw pitches off the black a little better and making quality pitches all the time - that's what summer is for."
Offensively, Riddle has compiled 145 career hits in 130 games including 42 extra-base hits and a staggering 106 RBI. She enters the 2014 campaign as a career .386 hitter.
"To me, hitting is the most important part of the game. Where I've made the most progress is hitting the ball the other way and hitting it with authority.
"That's where Coach B. (Bittinger) and my dad have really worked on my batting," pointed out Riddle.
Riddle has a tremendous softball IQ and makes decisions with the leather in a blink, as naturally as NHL goalies.
"I have to play good defense to help my team," declared Riddle. "When I'm not pitching, I'm usually at first base. It's a different position, but with a lot of responsibilities - especially against the bunt. You always have to be alert."
With eight returning starters in the fold, Riddle believes HHS could mirror Creekside's success next spring.
"In the regional final against Creekside, I wasn't 110 percent," admitted Riddle. "It's a long season. Yeah, I was a little tired. We had an opportunity to beat them, but didn't get it done. Now, we all have to work on getting stronger - including me.
"To me, next year started the moment we lost to Creekside," detailed Riddle. "We don't want things to end the way they did this year."
Upon graduation, Riddle, who carries a 3.6 grade point average, seeks a degree in business management. She'd like to open her own hair salon one day.
At this point, Riddle has not narrowed her choice of college.
"It's such a tough process," pointed out Riddle. "Let's just say a lot of schools are interested, but I'm looking out for the best offer."
By the Numbers: Hernando's Courtney Riddle
- Compiled by TONY CASTRO
YR TM GP AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI .AVG
2009 HCA 28 61 15 21 1 2 0 09 .344
2010 HCA 26 72 28 31 10 4 0 22 .431
2011 HER 21 67 08 21 2 2 0 14 .313
2012 HER 25 80 10 28 7 0 0 19 .350
2013 HER 29 96 02 43 13 0 1 42 .448
TOTALS 130 376 63 145 33 8 1 106 .386
YR TM AP GS CG IP H R ER BB KO SHO W L ERA
2009 HCA 24 09 04 80.2 58 39 18 28 80 1 10 3 1.56
2010 HCA 23 21 15 133.2 93 54 19 43 163 3 17 5 0.99
2011 HER 17 14 08 83.2 78 39 29 15 58 2 8 4 2.43
2012 HER 22 15 12 116.1 85 55 19 47 77 2 10 9 1.14
2013 HER 29 29 26 188.2 148 71 38 47 177 6 22 7 1.41
TOTALS 115 88 65 603.0 462 258 123 180 555 14 67 28 1.43