Monday, Nov 24, 2014

Two red-hot teams clash in New Port Richey

Hernando Today correspondent

In its simplest terms, Tuesday’s Class 5A, Region II girls fast-pitch softball semifinal at 7 p.m. in New Port Richey serves as a fork in the road.

Hernando High’s best-ever team in 12 years arrives red hot, winners of five straight.

With Tuesday night’s triumph, the Lady Leopards (21-7) will reach the regional finals for the first time since the back-to-back 2000-01 seasons under Hall of Fame Ernie Chatman.

For the West Pasco County host Lady Buccaneers (15-13), the regional semifinal is the school’s second-ever: both under 10th year mentor Rick Hohenthaner.

A win on Tuesday, would create a deeper stir. No previous GHS nine has ever reached the fast-pitch regional finals in nearly a generation of play – 23 seasons.

There’s plenty at stake besides playoff survival. Both teams realize that in the winner-take-all game, whoever advances to Friday’s final will host the survivor of Citra-North Marion at St. Augustine-Creekside.

For the Lady Bucs, according to Hohenthaner, it’s been a tale of two seasons.

GHS’ 14-member roster, featuring three seniors, opened the season on a blistering 11-1 run. During that stretch, the Lady Bucs notched seven shutouts and averaged almost nine runs per game (8.83).

But before playing at Wesley Chapel against Wiregrass Ranch, a mistake was unearthed on a player’s grade point average. A player, who had an injured shoulder and could not throw or bat, remained on the team as a courtesy runner.

It turned out that courtesy runner’s GPA had dipped below 2.0 and it was not detected until report cards came out.

Neither Hohenthaner nor veteran athletic director Travis DeWalt initially discovered the error. When they did, they immediately self-reported the findings to the FHSAA and were forced to forfeit all seven games the player in question participated in.

Had there been no forfeits, GHS would be entering Tuesday night’s game with a better record (22-6) than Hernando.

From the Wiregrass Ranch game to districts, Hohenthaner said the Lady Bucs were attempting to “find their identity.” The Lady Bucs meandered through their next 12 tilts, going 6-6.

During that stretch, GHS faced Hernando for third place in the Leopard Slam II tournament in Brooksville.

Though 5½ innings, GHS was beating HHS, 2-1, before the hosts exploded for eight runs on 10 hits across their last two at-bats, to win going away, 9-2.

In their postseason run, GHS has outscored its opponents by 21 runs, 29-8.

Last Wednesday, GHS eliminated 5A-District 7 runner-up Tavares, 6-1. HHS had narrowly solved THS twice by one run.

The Lady Bucs, who arrive hitting .323, average 6.39 runs per game.

Their cache of weapons features: junior catcher Nikki Sedivy hitting .409, leading the team in homers (four) and tied for the lead in runs batted in (24); freshman pitcher/shortstop Britney Pressler, hitting .402, standing third in hits (33), first in runs scored (31) and having collected a team-high 16 extra-base hits; junior pitcher/first base Madison Morlan, hitting .342 with 27 hits and tied with Sedivy in RBI (24); junior infielder and three-sport standout Rachel Gardner, hitting .419, leading the team in at-bats (86), hits (36) and stolen bases (13-of-14); junior third sacker Tarra Rice, despite a paltry 28 at-bats leading the team in hitting at .429 and verbally committed to Jackson State (Miss.).

On the bump, Morlan (133 innings) and Pressler (40 innings) have combined to throw all 173 innings for the Lady Bucs. To date, Morlan has thrown 12 complete games while Pressler hasn’t thrown one.

The duo, which has restricted batters to a combined .205 batting average, arrives with an outstanding strikeout-to-walk ratio: 5-to-1.

If there are any warts it’s with the Gulf defense. GHS has totaled 71 errors, a glaring 2.5 miscues per game.

Coach Hohenthaner, who is 3-13 lifetime against Hernando since 2004, has dropped the last three meetings and hasn’t solved HHS since 2010’s 8-0 triumph in New Port Richey.

The Lady Leopards enter with momentum. Dating back to 1997, HHS is 16-3 lifetime against Gulf.

Forget about peaking out. The 2013 Lady Leopards have elevated their game at every level. A team that hit .315 during the regular season has batted 34-for-87 at the plate (.391), and has outscored its foes, 22-5.

Senior center fielder Ashley Sims has been hitting the ball at a torrid clip. She’s 10-of-12 in the postseason (.833) with a team-leading six runs scored.

Player of the Year candidate, junior pitcher Courtney Riddle, is hitting .636 in the state series going 7-of-11 with a team-best five RBI.

Defensively, while the opposition has committed nine errors in 91 chances (.901 fielding percentage), HHS has converted 98-of-102 chances (.961).

Junior second sacker Summer Solovitch, who is tied with Riddle with five RBI, has a team-best 11 assists.

First sacker, sophomore Darren Hunter, has converted a team-best 37-of-38 chances (.974).

While Gulf’s pitchers have raised eyebrows, Riddle has served as a model of consistency on the rubber.

During the regular season, Riddle handcuffed opposition batters to a collective .188 batting average. Through three complete-game, pressured-packed playoff victories, Riddle (21-6) has limited foes to a 13-of-75 effort at the plate (.173 batting average).

On the keys to victory, “The first thing is we need our pitching to be as sharp as they have been,” noted Hohenthaner. “Madison (Morlan) must stay ahead of the batters.

“Next, our defense has been sharper,” pointed out Hohenthaner, whose team committed a game-high three errors in the 9-2 loss at Tom Varn Park while Hernando converted 30-of-30 chances. “When we played Hernando before, they caught us a little short-handed. This time, we need to play airtight.

“Lately, our offense has begun to come alive, like it played to begin the season,” described Hohenthaner. “Early on we scored runs in bunches. We’re seeing that trend again.

“Also, another big home crowd wouldn’t hurt us at all,” he said. “This is the time of year to get greedy. Coaches will say this time of year is the frosting on the cake. For me, I love eating cake. We’re not ready to stop.”

From the visitors’ prospective, “That’s a quality ball club over there,” declared HHS’ eighth-year skipper Kevin Bittinger, who arrives 120-87 lifetime, including a 9-3 mark against GHS. “They’re well-coached. They’re actually very similar to us.

“They’ve got some hitters, a good pitcher and a terrific catcher,” added Bittinger. “And I think both teams feel like they have something to prove.”

On the scouting report, “They’re going to rely on Madison (Morlan) for a well-pitched game, just like we are with Courtney,” noted Bittinger. “Problem is we can’t just focus on 3-4 kids, because then the other 5-6 will beat you. At this point in the season there aren’t many surprises, we have to come in prepared and ready to play.”

On the Lady Bucs’ greatest concerns, “What I admire about Kevin (Bittinger) and playing his teams is they always arrive ready to play,” pointed out Hohenthaner. “I’ll be honest; defending the entire field will be the biggest issue. I told our girls all I want them to do is win our last game – that’s our goal coming in.”

The game will be carried live across WWJB (AM) 1450 and streamed online across Pregame show is set for 6:30 p.m.

At a Glance

What – Class 5A, Region II semifinal

Who – Hernando Lady Leopards (21-7, 5A-7 champions) at Gulf Lady Buccaneers (15-13, 5A-8 champions).

Where – Gulf High, 5355 School Road, New Port Richey

When – Tuesday at 7 p.m.

At Stake – Winner advances to the 5A-II final on Friday against the survivor of Citra-North Marion at St. Johns-Creekside.

By the Numbers: Hernando vs. Gulf

- Compiled by TONY CASTRO


No. of regional appearances 2 12

No. of regional championships 0 2

No. of state appearances 0 2

No. of state championships 0 0

Regional W-L Record 2-1 10-11

Hernando vs. Gulf Girls Fast-Pitch Softball Series (1997-2013)

Leopard lead series 16-3

- Compiled by TONY CASTRO


1997 Away W 17-5

1998 DNP

1999 DNP

2000 DNP

2001 DNP

2002 Away W 11-1*

2003 Away W 12-4

2004 Away W 8-2

2004 Home W 6-0

2005 Home W 2-1 (8)

2005 Away W 4-1

2006 Home W 5-0

2006 Away L 7-8

2007 Away W 4-3

2007 Home W 9-6

2008 Home W 2-1

2008 Away L 1-11

2009 Away W 14-2

2009 Home W 7-6

2010 Away L 0-8

2010 Home W 11-1 (5)

2011 DNP

2012 Away W 2-0

2013 Home W 9-3#

* Denotes @ Ridgewood Tourney

# Denotes @ Leopard Slam II Tourney

By the Numbers: Lady Leopards’ Postseason Batting Averages

- Compiled by TONY CASTRO


Sims 3 12* 6* 10* 0 0 0 1 .833*

Riddle 3 11 0 7 2* 0 0 5* .636

McDaniel 3 10 3 4 1 0 0 3 .400

Solovitch 3 11 2 4 1 0 0 5* .364

Harvey 3 6 2 2 0 0 0 1 .333

Lane 3 10 4 3 0 1* 0 2 .300

Lewis 3 9 1 2 1 0 0 3 .222

Cannon 3 10 2 2 0 0 0 0 .200

Mobley 3 8 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000

Patrick 3 0 2 0 0 0 0 0 .000

Hunter 3 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000

TOTALS 3 87 22 34 5 1 0 20 .391

OPPOSITION 3 75 5 13 1 0 0 4 .173

* Denotes team leader

By the Numbers: Lady Leopards’ Postseason Defensive Stats

- Compiled by TONY CASTRO


Lane 9 5 0* 14 1.000*

Riddle 2 8 0* 10 1.000*

Sims 4 2 0* 6 1.000*

Lewis 4 0 0* 4 1.000*

Cannon 2 0 0* 2 1.000*

Hunter 37* 0 1 38* .974

Solovitch 1 11* 1 13 .923

Harvey 1 7 1 9 .889

McDaniel 3 3 1 7 .857

TOTALS 63 35 4 102 .961

OPPOSITION 56 26 9 91 .901

* Denotes team leader

By the Numbers: Lady Leopards’ Postseason Pitching Stats

- Compiled by TONY CASTRO


Riddle 3 3 3 21.0 13 5 2 04 10 1 3 0 0.67

OPP 4 3 1 18.2 34 22 16 07 08 0 0 3 6.00


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