Leopards at Coyotes: ‘Day of Reckoning’ arrives

Ali Shenefield                                                                                                                                            Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO


Hernando visits Cypress Creek

at 7 p.m. Tuesday in W. Chapel



Few preps teams ever have a chance to redeem themselves within an 11-day window.

That rare possibility has presented itself when the 30-year-old Hernando High fast-pitch softball program visits second-year Cypress Creek Middle/High School at 7 p.m. Tuesday at Wesley Chapel.

Unlike the 5A-7 title game at Brooksville’s Tom Varn on May 3, this time, whoever loses is breaking out the suntan lotion and heading to the beach because its season is over.

The winner advances to Friday’s Class 5A, Region II Final between the survivor of Alachua-Santa Fe (21-6) at Eustis (26-1)

For a bevy of reasons, the Leopards (25-3 overall) have literally circled Tuesday’s night’s game against the Coyotes (15-8).

Forget the fact that the Coyotes had never bested HHS prior to the title tilt, going 0-for-4.

Overlook the fact that the Purple and Gold led 5-0 with two outs in the sixth before imploding.

The Leopards get a chance to rectify matters after committing a season-high five errors. That’s the most amount of errors in a month’s time.

14th-year HHS skipper Kevin Bittinger can’t ever remember collecting a game-high 10 hits and leaving 14 runners on base.

Moreover, the start-up Coyotes’ program – which features seven seniors – tallied seven 11th-hour runs to whisk away its first-ever district title, 7-5.

Since then, Cypress Creek rallied past Pierson-Taylor Middle/High School, 6-4, on a bases-clearing double by Anna Margetis.

Meanwhile in Orange County, HHS exorcized some demons by blanking perennially tough Bishop Moore Catholic, 4-0.

Madyson Lamp turns around a pitch for a first inning homer against Hudson High. Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO

That bagel served as HHS senior right-hander Ali Shenefield’s 17th of the season (extending her single season record) and her 44th lifetime (extending her county record).

Offensively, HHS enters hitting a collective .411.

Fourteen of its 17 rostered players are hitting .300 or better.

Senior designated hitter Madyson Lamp (hitting .536) and junior catcher Taliyah Dowdell (.442) arrive with 12 combined homers and 82 total runs batted in.

Ali Shenefield

Shenefield helps herself raking at a .482 clip behind 41 hits and 33 RBI.

Solaris Genberg

Freshman shortstop Solaris Genberg, who went 0-for-4 in the last meeting against Coyotes, has still hit safely in six of her last seven games. The first-year starter is hitting .409.

In the circle, Shenefield (23-3) enters with a county-best 345 strikeouts across 153.0 innings.

Shenefield has already signed to play D-I ball at Winter Park’s Rollins College.

CCHS counters with catcher Neely Peterson (.522, 6 HR), who has already inked to play D-I ball at Colorado State University in Boulder.

What pressure?

Second-year Cypress Creek mentor Mike Peterson, Neely’s dad, said his team enters, “We’re loose. We’re not suppose to be here. We’re a young program playing with the likes of Taylor, Bishop Moore, Nature Coast and Hernando. Our focus is to play it one game at a time.”

On playing at home, “It nice to have more fans in the house,” explained Coach Peterson. “For the last week, the school has been really hyping up the game. I’m expecting to have a good crowd there.”

Bittinger brushes away the notion that the game’s pressure is squarely on Hernando.

“I wouldn’t call Tuesday night’s game revenge. Just like in the movie “Deadwood” – I call it a reckoning.

“I think the pressure is on both teams. It’s either win or go home for both teams, not just one team,” noted Bittinger. “In games like this, each girls feels it and each deals with it the best they can.”

The veteran Leopard mentor says that district championship loss might have been the best thing to happen to his team.

“You learn more from losses than you ever learn from wins,” he stressed. “We had a lack of execution stranding 14 runners. I can’t ever remember that happening before.

“But since then we had a few good practices and went up to Orlando and beat a good Bishop Moore pitcher. So that loss was an attention-getter.”

Keys to the game

For the hosts, Coach Peterson didn’t hesitate.

He indicated that senior Avery Lee with start in the circle, but freshman Miranda Schwartz “will be ready as needed.”

“For us, we have to put the ball in play. We think we can hit with anybody. No disrespect to Hernando, but they‘re not used playing a lot of defense. We got to put the ball in play and put some pressure on them.

“… In a perfect world, I’d love to see us score early and force them to chase us,” said Coach Peterson. “No matter what, we have to keep it close and have a little luck on our side.

“… For us to win, I’ve told our girls, if we play our best, then they have to be perfect to beat us.”

Kevin Bittinger

Bittinger offered, “Defensively, we have to make plays. We don’t have to be exceptional behind Ali. She’s gonna give us a well pitched game; she always does. There’s no doubt she’ll attack the zone. But we have to make the routine plays and we need to finish innings.”

On the injury front, Bittinger indicated that Jadyn Wright, who was injured on a play at the plate in Orlando, will be out for the remainder of the season due to a knee injury.

Freshman designated rabbit (designated runner) Aryn O’Berry broke her hand in the recent live scrimmage intra-squad game and is also out for the remainder of the season.


WHAT – Class 5A, Region II Semifinal.

Wesley Chapel-Cypress Creek Coyotes

WHO – 5A-7 runner-up Brooksville-Hernando Leopards (25-3) at 5A-7 champion Cypress Creek Coyotes (15-8) at Cypress Creek Middle/High School’s softball field, 8701 Old Pasco Road, Wesley Chapel.

WHEN – At 7 p.m.,Tuesday, May 14.

AT STAKE – Winner advances to the Class 5A, Region II Final set for 7 p.m. Friday, May 17, against the survivor of Alachua-Santa Fe Raiders (21-6) at Eustis Panthers (26-1).

By the Numbers: Hernando at Cypress Creek

– Compiled by TONY CASTRO


5A-II Quarterfinal





No. of regional appearances



No. of regional championships



No. of state appearances



No. of state championships



Regional/state W-L Record



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