Ashley Sims choked back tears as she reflected on Friday night’s game, her last in a Hernando uniform.
The Lady Leopards’ season had just ended in the Class 5A, Region II final, St. Johns-Creekside delivering the knockout blow via a 10-0 victory at Tom Varn Park.
Despite the lopsided loss, Hernando had advanced further than it had in 12 years, and the goods news for the Lady Leopards, eight of their 10 starters should return in 2014.
But Sims won’t be one of them. The team captain and starting center fielder concluded a scorching postseason at the plate, in which she went 12-for-16 over five games.
“I’m not sad because we lost,” Sims said. “We’ve come a long way. We’d love to go to the Final Four, but now we can say we’ve been to an Elite Eight game. We’ve never been able to say that.
“It’s my senior year, and I don’t want to leave.”
She’s certainly had a fine farewell tour athletically. She was an All-County selection in volleyball, tallying 173 kills, 171 assists and 229 digs as an outside hitter/setter.
That added to an All-County softball nod as a junior, something she seems likely to repeat this season.
Employing a hitting style in which she slaps the ball as she runs toward first base, a left-handed swing reminiscent of New York Yankees outfielder Ichiro Suzuki, Sims finished up hitting .450 with 15 runs batted over 30 games.
“The kid’s worked hard,” Hernando head coach Kevin Bittinger said. “She’s a leader and she plays with a chip on her shoulder, like she’s got to prove something every game.
“Everyone wants to win their last game, but she had such a tremendous run to get here. She went out on such a high note. That kid is going to be a beast in college. The program that got a hold of her got a good one.”
Sims signed with Seminole State College of Florida back in March.
As a full-time player over the next three seasons, her average improved each year, to .377 as a sophomore and .397 as a junior.
Holding to form, she seemed to save her best for last based on her recent hot streak, which actually began over the final two games of the regular season.
She posted five straight performances of at least three hits coming into Tuesday’s 5A-II semifinal at Gulf, when she went 1-for-1 with two walks, scoring twice.
Tally up the numbers and she hit at a .720 clip over the final seven contests of her prep career.
“It’s one of those things, this game is so streaky,” Bittinger said. “She was obviously attacking the ball and she’s such a threat because she’s so fast. She gets out of the box as quick as anybody.
“She was seeing the ball real well and I’ve been saying from the third-base coaching box, take what they give you.”
Sims also credited her work in the batting cage. She had one of two hits for the Lady Leopards on a Friday, a first-inning single to shallow left.
Later in the inning Sims was caught stealing second, only the second time she was thrown out in 34 attempts.
Creekside pitcher Rachel Pence, an old travel ball teammate of Sims, simply dominated Hernando, striking out 11 in six innings, including Sims in the third.
“She’s got really good movement,” said Sims, who ended up 1-for-3. “She’s a really good pitcher. She knows how to work the count.”
In the end the Lady Leopards simply didn’t have any answers for Pence and her teammates, but for Sims the past few weeks were still quite a swan song.
“Her evolution as a player, what she’s been for this program,” Bittinger said, “I can’t say enough about her.”
By the Numbers: Ashley Sims
- Compiled by TONY CASTRO
YR GP AB R H 2B 3B HR RBI .AVG
2010 17 28 4 5 0 0 0 0 .179
2011 25 77 20 29 0 0 0 6 .377
2012 25 78 24 31 1 0 0 8 .397
2013 301003945 1 0 0 15 .450
TOTALS 97 283 87 110 20 0 29 .389