Lady Leopards’ mound ace Shenefield tabbed Hernando County’s Player of the Year

Ali Shenefield                                                                                                                                                             Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO

SOFTBALL

Recent HHS graduate who

rewrote county records,

preps for D-II Rollins College

By TONY CASTRO

HernandoSport.com

Lessons are always learned by studying history.

Hopefully, not to duplicate many of the same mistakes.

In athletics, opportunities are granted, not handed out like Halloween treats.

So given any opportunity to play, each student/athlete has to maximize his/her chance.

Wally Pipp

History tells us that’s what happened with the New York Yankees when first sacker Wally Pipp didn’t feel well prior to a game at Yankee Stadium and was scratched from the starting lineup.

Little did Pipp realize that he was going to be replaced by the future.

The youngster was named Heinrich Ludwig Gehrig.

Lou Gehrig

Gehrig had played for nearby Columbia University.

But once Gehrig was inserted, he remained. The Iron Horse anchored first base for next 17 years.

He played in 2,130 consecutive games. A record that stood up for 56 years until Cal Ripken Jr. broke it in 1995.

In softball, Hernando High’s starting pitcher four seasons ago was right-hander Ashley Carter.

But during Carter’s freshman campaign she was nagged by foot injuries.

Head Coach Kevin Bittinger circled the wagons one day and consulted with pitching coach Casey Ellis.

Ali Shenefield

Their suggestion was to give infielder Alexandra Victoria Shenefield a shot.

When the duo asked Shenefield to come over and join the conversation.

When asked about possibly pitching, the 5-foot-6, 118-pounder graciously declined.

“I’m a third baseman, not a pitcher,” she blurted to all those present.

But Bittinger stuck to guns and decided to give Shenefield a shot.

“Go take some bullpens,” he instructed.

Three-and-half years later, the right-handed hurling Shenefield was on hill leading the Purple and Gold to district championship finals in 2017, 2018 and 2019.

Behind Shenefield, the Leopards won back-to-back Hernando County crowns in 2018-19.

With the former third sacker-turned-pitcher, Shenefield guided the Brooksville crew to its first FHSAA State Final Four appearance in 18 years.

The brown-tressed and brown-eyed Shenefield utilized her opportunity to be named All-Hernando County as a sophomore, junior and senior.

After this season’s stellar 27-4 run, Shenefield, who rewrote the local pitching records, was feted by the area coaches as Hernando County’s 2019 Player of the Year.

The decision was unanimous.

Her prep career led to another opportunity, she turned down Division I scholarship offers to two out-of-state schools to select D-II Rollins College in nearby Winter Park.

Just like in Gehrig’s case, one tiny opportunity led to another.

HHS Head Coach Kevin Bittinger and Ali Shenefield

Shenefield 411

Shenefield pieced together one the finest all-around seasons ever etched in Hernando County in 2019.

At the plate, the four-year starter finished second in the county hitting (.457).

The left-handed hitting Shenefield ranked third in at-bats (94), second in hits (43).

She also ranked fourth in extra-base hits (12), tied for second in singles (31).

She finished tied with Springstead’s Hannah Rizzuto for the circuit lead in doubles (9).

She ranked third in runs batted in (34).

Her on-base percentage (.518) was fourth-best as was her slugging percentage (.638).

As a leadoff batter, somehow she managed to drive in 91 RBI in 113 career games.

What she did offensively pales to how she controlled games in the circle.

She simply owned the pitching circle in 2019.

Ali Shenefield.                                 Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO

In 29 appearances, she finished 29 starts, turning in a stellar 25-4 slate

Across a county-best 173.0 innings, she fanned a county record 370 batters against 29 measly walks.

She broke her single season record of 15 shutouts with 18 bagels this season.

In just over three-plus seasons on the mound, the right-hander rewrote the Hernando County career record standards with 92 complete games, 573.1 innings pitched, 935 punchouts and 45 shutouts.

Shenefield, who also lettered in golf as a junior and a senior, was a whiz in the classroom maintaining 3.3 unweighted and 3.5 weighted grade point average.

She turned down D-I chances to play for University of Louisiana at Monroe and the University of Rhode Island to join forces with Rollins College Tars.

Praise pours in

Area coaches heaped praise.

“Anything I say to describe Ali, will sell her short … It is impossible to describe the impact she had on our program,” explained Hernando High’s 14th-year skipper Bittinger, who was coincidentally named Hernando County’s Coach of the Year. “You’ll see her impact for years to come … Her legacy will be permanent … She always worked with the younger kids … The others always looked up to her.

Kevin Bittinger. Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO

“People came to see Ali pitch … That‘s a terrific level of respect for her work ethic,” shared Bittinger. “It was never about me with Ali, it was always about the team first … She didn‘t have a golden arm … She was a curveball pitcher who became a strikeout pitcher … Rollins is such a lucky school to get someone like Ali … She’s 17 … She’s only going to get better … What I’ll never forget is her freshman year when she said she’s a third baseman … Well, we needed her to throw some bullpens and look at her now … Last year’s regional final loss to Keystone Heights drove her to new heights this year.”

“(Ali) Had a great season,” said Springstead’s Craig Swartout. “Really carried her team to great things.”

Jug Olmstead

“I watched her progress, she took command of the circle … To me, she has that rare “it” factor that many kids don’t have,” stressed Nature Coast technical’s Jug Olmstead. “She went out with determination and deserves nothing but kudos for her efforts.

“… She gave Hernando that presence in the circle – it was like we’re gonna win every time … I was impressed with her all-around play … She’s a tough out when she steps into the box … I can definitely see her hitting at the next level.”

“Her numbers were so impressive,” added Weeki Wachee’s Charlene Ross. “They were amazing … She was a game-changer … Without Ali, they don’t go nearly as deep.”

Her reaction

“Listen, getting Player of the Year was great,” beamed the 17-year-old Shenefield. “This is a great compliment to our whole team. But I didn’t win games by myself. We won and lost together.”

ROLLINS COLLEGE-BOUND – Hernando High’s Ali Shenefield signed a national letter of intent to play D-II softball with Rollins College in Winter Park. In attendance was first row (left to right): Samantha Burnette, Madyson Lamp, Ali Shenefield, Brianna Taylor Second row: Olivia Townsend, Ava Thompson, Lauren Sullivan, Taliyah Dowdell, Courtney Cloud, Sabrina Burr, Alyssa Forte, and Nakayla Roberts
Ali Shenefield is flanked by her parents Steve and Heather Shenefield.

Shenefield 411

In tracing her athletic roots, Ali was born in Flint (Whatever you do, don’t drink the water!), Michigan – just ask 60 Minutes).

Her father Steve hailed from Indiana but didn’t play any sports.

Her mother, Heather, graduated from Springstead and was a cheerleader in Spring Hill.

Shenefield has called Brooksville home for entire life.

Ali Shenefield strokes a first inning lead-off double. Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO

Her initial organized sport was HYL T-Ball at 5 years old.

She played Dixie Softball until she was nine and then joined travel ball.

During middle school, she attended Parrott.

As an extremely active student/athlete she played junior varsity volleyball as a sixth-grader and JV basketball while running the 1,600 and 800 meters in track and field.

As a seventh-grader, she was promoted to the varsity volleyball, played jayvee basketball team and played for the Leopards’ softball team.

As an eighth-grader, she played varsity in volleyball, basketball and softball.

Once she matriculated to the Bell Avenue campus, she played jayvee volleyball for two seasons, played golf as a junior and senior and earned four varsity letters in softball.

Outside of athletics, Shenefield was a two-year member of the BETA Club and served as secretary.

Her favorite courses included Mrs. Moon’s Anatomy, Mrs. Bainum’s culinary class, mathematics with Cheryl Platt, physical education with Casey Ellis.

Ali Shenefield                                                                                                                                                          Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO

Shenefield calls softball, the biggest part of her life.

“I love everything about the game,” she grinned. “I love playing it and I like going to practice.”

Her favorite facet on a diamond is – get this – operating in the circle.

“I like being on the mound. It makes it very competitive and I like to win,” she shared. “I’m focused on just doing my job. That means no one scores.”

Mirror, mirror

When glancing at a mirror.

“When I’m out there, I’m composed and I think of myself as a complete player. Externally, I might look cool and all together but I‘m constantly thinking ahead about each hitter and each situation.”

In her repertoire, Shenefield throws a rise ball, a curveball, a screwball and a changeup. She emphatically does not throw a fast ball or a drop ball.

When asked what type of pitcher she is, “I‘m a pitcher who misses bats,” she smiled. “Depending on the batter and situation, everything changes.”

Shenefield began pitching when she played travel ball.

Ali Shenefield Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO

“When I came up to Hernando, we already had a good pitcher in Ashley (Carter). But when she got hurt, the situation changed. I started putting in a lot more time with my bullpens.

“My screwball used to be my best pitch. Lately, it’s been my changeup.”

On how Shenefield’s game has improved, “First of all, I feel like my defense has my back; that’s huge,” she noted. “Then, I’ve gotten a little smarter. I gauge batters on their first swing. Where are their hands? Are they taking big cuts or not?”

In three-plus seasons, Shenefield shook off a Coach Bittinger called pitch once. And only once.

“I’ll never do that again. I remember he called time out. I told him I didn’t agree with that pitch selection,” recalled Shenefield. “He reminded me that he has my best interests in mind and to simply trust him. That he’ll call the pitches and my job was to execute them the best I could.”

“Pitching has taught me a lot about myself. I have to trust my ability to execute the pitches the coaches call,” noted Shenefield.

Hernando High’s Ali Shenefield eyes a pitch during the district championship game against Nature Coast. Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO

Defining moment

One of 2019 defining moments wasn’t a win, but rather the Lady Leopards’ 5A-7 title game loss at Tom Varn Park to underdog Cypress Creek, 7-5.

“Looking back, that loss at home really helped us,” shared Shenefield. “We regained our focus in regionals. Because we lost at home, he had to play on the road and we’d never done that before.

“… It was a different kind of atmosphere. We had to work through all their fans.”

“After all those years, we didn’t have the best relationship with Nature Coast. But when they (Cypress Creek) knocked them out and they beat us, we knew we’d get one more shot at them. Let’s just say, winning there was very satisfying. It was a different level.”

In besting Alachua-Sante Fe in the memorable regional final, 1-0, “As soon as Bear (Madyson Lamp) hit it out, I was jumping and screaming – probably three feet off the ground.

“I’ll never forget that game or the Keystone Heights loss the year before. That was the motivator for me,” explained Shenefield. “Coming that close to go to states and then seeing it disappear really hurt. But it was the motivator for the next season.“

Ali Shenefield Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO

Rewinding the Class 5A FHSAA state semifinal 6-1 loss to Coral Springs Charter, “We had a great season, but we had one bad inning.

“I felt walking in that we had the team to do it (beat Coral Springs). They sped up the game; that’s why they won.“

On what stood out during the fabulous run, “On the last out at Santa Fe, I watched Alyssa Forte make the catch to send us to states,” explained Shenefield. “It was extremely gratifying as a senior pitcher to have been able to help our team reach our goals of states.

“…It was so gratifying to finally get over the hump of losing those close regional finals. It was a great feeling being in the circle watching Alyssa make that catch.”

Why Rollins?

Rollins College Tars

Shenefield will be seeking an international business degree in Winter Park.

In why she chose Rollins, “It seemed like a perfect fit,” described Shenefield. ‘The campus was beautiful. There’s only like 2,000 kids, so the class sizes are much smaller.

“The coaches were amazing. I didn’t like the appeal of going to a big school.

“… Initially, I was open to the idea of playing out-of-state, but I come from a big family and I wanted my family to see me play.“

On what’s standing between Shenefield and the door to success, “It’s probably procrastination,” she quipped. “I’ll get things done.“

On her current mood toward her move, “I’m ready and I’m excited,” she replied. ‘The excitement outweighs the nervousness.“

Ali Shenefield tags out a Coral Springs runner . Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO

Move-in day is Aug. 21.

“Between now and school starting, I’m following my workouts,” stressed Shenefield. “It includes strength training and agility drills.”

After rewriting the Hernando County record book, “I’m very proud of my records,“ explained Shenefield. “But I was always looking at the bigger picture. I didn’t do anything by myself. My teammates played a huge part in our success.”

For all the things she accomplished between the lines, Shenefield says she’d like to be remembered, “As the pitcher who helped her team reach the Final Four. Being remembered as a good teammate, who always wanted to win, means more to me than anything.”

By the Numbers:

Hernando’s Ali Shenefield (2016-19)

– Compiled by TONY CASTRO

HITTING

Ali Shenefield
 

YEAR

 

GP

 

AB

 

R

 

H

 

2B

 

3B

 

HR

 

RBI

 

.AVG

2016

26

76

20

26

8

2

0

13

.342

2017

30

81

3

34

8

3

2

23

.420

2018

28

84

1

34

4

1

1

21

.405

2019

29

94

2

43

9

1

2

34

.457

 

TOTALS

 

113

 

335

 

26

 

137

 

29

 

7

 

5

 

91

 

.409

PITCHING

Hernando High’s Ali Shenefield during the district championship game against Nature Coast. Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO
 

YEAR

 

AP

 

GS

 

CG

 

IP

 

H

 

R

 

ER

 

BB

 

KO

 

SO

 

W

 

L

 

ERA

2016

17

14

11

85.1

66

45

27

38

82

2

10

3

2.21

2017

29*

29*

27

163.0

130

55

37

31

205

10

20

9

1.59

2018

27

27

25

152.0

87

29

22

33

278

15#

23

4

1.01

2019

29*

29*

29

173.0

70

35

22

29

370

18

25

4

0.89

 

TOT

 

102

 

99

 

92#

 

573.1#

 

353

 

164

 

108

 

131

 

935#

 

45#

 

78

 

20

 

1.32

* Denotes school record.                                             # Denotes Hernando County record.

 

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