Make that 27 in a row! Panthers rally past Leopards, 6-1

Hernando shortstop Solaris Greenberg demonstrates the ball in glove after tagging out a Coral Springs runner Cassidy Crump at third base in the second inning Thursday at Vero Beach’s Holman Stadium. Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO
Taliyah Dowdell makes sure of a pop out in the FHSAA 5A semi-final versus Coral Springs Charter. Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO
Ali Shenefield tags out a Coral Springs runner Cassiy Crump. But Crump was ruled safe when Shenefield was called for obstruction.  . Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO
Hernando High’s Madyson Lamp reacts to an intentional walk during the FHSAA 5A semifinal versus Coral Springs Charter. Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO


Pair of Coral Springs

pitchers total 12 Ks to

tame HHS’ upset bid


VERO BEACH – Heard the phrase cream rises.

That’s exactly what happened Thursday when Coral Springs Charter overcame Hernando High’s early 1-run lead with five runs in the in the fifth inning Thursday.

The Panthers, seeking its fifth straight state championship to tie the record held by Bartow (2002-06) tacked on a run in the fourth to oust the Hernando (27-4), 6-1.

In the Class 5A State Semifinals at the Holman Stadium in Indian River County, the Panthers (28-1) carved its 27th straight win.

With the come-from-behind triumph, the Broward County private school will clash against the Marianna Bulldogs in Friday morning’s state finals.

In the first of two semis, the Bulldogs (27-1-1) solved Wauchula-Hardee County (18-12), 6-1.

On Friday, the ’Dawgs will be seeking its first-ever state title at the Jackie Robinson Training Center, formerly known as Dodgertown.

Leopard standouts

Ernie Chatman

For the Purple and Gold, in its third trip to FHSAA State Finals (other two were in 2000 and 2001 under HHS Hall of Famer Ernie Chatman), a pair of Panther hurlers – starter Briana Godfrey and Alina Varga – handcuffed the Leopards to four singles.

The two right-handers, neither of whom threw particularly hard, combined for three walks and 12 strikeouts.

In one of the game’s keys, in three of Hernando’s four losses, the Leopards totaled 10 or more strikeouts.

As the Leopards have done all season they also stranded a game-high nine batters, including leaving the bases loaded in the second.

In another key, the untested Hernando defense committed a game-high two errors.

Taliyah Dowdell

The ultra-quick and aggressive Panthers applied the pressure early and often against HHS junior catcher Taliyah Dowdell.

After Dowdell threw out the first enemy base runner – attempting to steal third base – the Broward crew was successful on its next five attempts.

Solaris Genberg

On the plus side, freshman shortstop Solaris “Solo” Genberg, who walked in hitting .394, finished 2-for-4.

HHS’ two other hits belonged to senior Nakayla Roberts and junior Sabrina Burr.

In the circle, senior pitcher Ali Shenefield in her 99th career start, turned in her 92nd complete game.

In the process, Shenefield (25-4) surpassed Courtney Riddle’s 6-year mark (remember her two years at HCA followed by four years at HHS) of 572.2 innings for the Hernando County record for most career innings pitched (574.1).

Ali Shenefield

The right-hander, who is headed for D-I ball at Winter Park’s Rollins College, scattered five singles and six runs (all unearned).

Shenefield, who has rewritten Hernando High and the county’s pitching standards, walked three against a game-high nine punchouts.

She finished with a single-season Hernando County record 370 Ks.

She concluded her four-year mound career with a county record 935 punchouts against 132 free passes. That’s better than a 7:1 ratio in strikeouts to walks.

The 5-foot-3 brunette was also credited with 91st run batted in of her career following her second walk of the game off Godfrey to score Roberts.

Recapping the scoring

Godfrey appeared to be laboring with her command in the early going.

She opened the game walking Shenefield.

Lauren Sullivan immediately replaced Shenefield at first base as a courtesy runner.

Dowdell, leading the county with 43 runs batted in, dropped down a perfect sacrifice bunt to advance Sullivan to second.

Mark Montimurro

With two outs and first base open, CSC skipper Mark Montimurro – Florida Dairy Farmers’ defending Softball Coach of the Year, opted to intentionally walk Lamp.

The strategy worked when Godfrey fanned sophomore Olivia Townsend stranding two runners.

HHS broke the game’s seal with a run in the second, but missed a chance for a much bigger inning.

Nakayla Roberts

Roberts, the multi-sport standout in volleyball, basketball, track and field and softball, opened the frame with a single to left.

In her 108th career game, the 2018 all-star registered her 106th career hit.

Burr, who arrived hitting .345, was not bunting Instead, she grounded a liner that grazed the glove of third sacker Shannon Doherty for an infield single into left.

Junior Hayden Kimbrough dropped down a gorgeous bunt.

Hayden Kimbrough

Charging in from third, Doherty fielded the ball cleanly but for some reason chose not to throw to first base.

Instead, she turned completely around and attempted to throw out Roberts at third. Wrong decision.

Roberts was there easily as Kimbrough reached on the fielder’s choice.

Freshman Hannah Lynch struck out for the first out prior to Shenefield coaxing her second walk forcing home Roberts, 1-0 Leopards.

HHS missed a chance for more.

Dowdell hit a sinking liner to right field that Alexis Johnson grabbed on the run. Because the ball was hit so hard, there was no chance to send Burr from third.

With the sacks loaded, Genberg struck out for the second time leaving three more Leopards on base.

CSC’s Cassidy Crump, who enjoyed two of her team’s five hits, singled a to center with one out in the bottom of the second.

Kiara Meikle (pronounced Michael) coaxed a walk.

Here, Montimurro attempted to turn up the heat as the Panthers have done all season long.

Both runners took off on a double steal attempt.

Dowdell, however, whistled a relay throw to Genberg covering the bag at third to tag Crump for the second out.

Though Meikle stood at second with a “stolen” base, that point was mute when Godfrey fanned.

In the bottom of third inning, the game’s complexion changed as hosts tallied five runs.

Tatianna Luersen opened the inning coaxing a walk off Shenefield.

Jaydah Stroup was quickly inserted as a courtesy runner for the catcher.

Johnson, attempting to bunt, popped the ball up that Kimbrough plucked out of the air for the first out.

The alert Kimbrough fired to first sacker Townsend not in time, however, to double up Stroup.

Sara Berthiaume, who is a Florida Atlantic University commit, singled to left.

In the perhaps the most pivotal play of the game, Bridget Dunham grounded to Genberg.

But the first-year Genberg misplayed the backspin for a critical error permitting Stroup to score, 1-1.

With one out and runners ending up at second and third, HHS mentor Kevin Bittinger intentionally walked the Panthers’ finest hitter – Auburn University commit Lindsey Garcia.

The strategy appeared to work when Shenefield struck out Doherty looking at a called third strike.

So had HHS not committed an error, it would have been out of the inning.

Crump, however, foiled the strategy by slugging a two-run to left-center plating Berthiaume and Dunham.

On the throw in, Crump alertly scampered to second.

Here’s when things got fuzzy for the HHS defense.

Meikle hit a an end-of-the-bat trickler between Shenefield and Townsend.

There appeared to be a miscommunication on who was fielding the ball and who was covering first.

By the time Shenefield got to the ball, Meikle reached on an infield single.

She wasted no time stealing second.

With runners at second and third, Montimurro had noticed that Shenefield turned her back when she received the throw from Dowdell after each pitch.

When she did it again, Garcia turned into Lou Brock and stole home, 4-3.

But that’s exactly when Montimurro stepped on the gas and also sent his trial runner, Crump, home.

Dowdell’s relay to Shenefield covering the plate appeared to be on time. Crump appeared to be tagged out.

But in one of the weirdest calls ever, Shenefield was called for obstruction – for standing at the plate – disallowing the tag out and permitting the fifth run, 5-1.

CSC tacked on a run in the fourth.

After Shenefield struck out the first two batters,

Berthiaume grounded to Kimbrough.

But Kimbrough’s wide throw pulled Townsend off the bag for an error.

Again, CSC went after Dowdell, stealing second base.

That was huge when Dunham followed with an RBI single to left, her 20th of the season, 6-1 Panthers.

Godfrey (15-0) departed after four innings replaced by Varga.

That’s when Hernando had its last real look at the game.

Townsend opened the frame by being hit by a pitch.

Roberts grounded Garcia, the future Auburn infielder, olayed the grounder for an error.

Varga, against Hernando’s bottom third, demonstrated some moxie fanning in succession Burr, Kimbrough and pinch hitter Sullivan, stranding two more runners.

Coaches’ corner

Hernando Head Coach Kevin Bittinger goes over ground rules before the start of the FHSAA 5A semi-final versus Coral Springs Charter. Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO

Afterward Bittinger explained the game’s difference, “I think it was the third inning. They (CSC) did a great game of speeding the game up. They got us a little twisted on the bases. We got in a little bit over our head there. It was really one inning.”

On Shenefield’s overall performance, “Ali pitched a great game. Of the six runs, maybe one of two were earned. The error at shortstop was big and we left either 8-9 runners on base.”

On the game’s high-water mark, “We got the bases loaded in the second and we were able to scratch across a run. But if we would’ve gotten 2-3-4 (runs) it would’ve helped.”

On the flip side, Bittinger didn’t attempt to hide the elephant in the room, “We struck 12 times. When we put the ball in play we were successful.”

After walking away from HHS’ first Final Four in 18 years, “I thought the girls did a tremendous job staying in the game. It’s a four-time state champion were playing against,” he stressed. “Maybe their experience showed a little bit. But I can’t say enough of how proud I am of this group of girls. They stayed in the game and battled. I think they did everything we asked them to do in terms of representing Hernando High School and the town of Brooksville. Everyone should be proud of these girls in what they’ve been able to accomplish.

On whether Coral Springs was the best team HHS had played, “Yeah. They don‘t standout pitching-wise. But they create a lot of chaos on the bases and I think that’s what showed up in the third inning…. They’re tough outs.”

2019 “Road to the Show”

Class 5A, District 7 Girls Softball Tournament at Brooksville’s Tom Varn Park



Hernando – bye

NCT 11, Hudson-Fivay 0 (4.5 Innings)



Hudson 15, Central 0 (3.5)

Cypress Creek 16, Gulf 1 (4.5)



Cypress Creek 8, NCT 3

Hernando 9, Hudson 1



Cypress Creek 7, Hernando 5


Class 5A, Region II Quarterfinals

@ Wesley Chapel

Cypress Creek 6, Pierson-Taylor 4

@ Orlando

Hernando 4, Bishop Moore Catholic 0


Class 5A, Region II Semifinals

@ Eustis

Alachua-Santa Fe 5, Eustis 3


Class 5A, Region II Semifinals

@ Wesley Chapel

Hernando 8, Cypress Creek 7


Class 5A, Region II Semifinals

@ Alachua

Hernando 1, Santa Fe 0


Class 5A State Semifinals

@ Vero Beach

Marianna 6, Hardee County 1

Coral Springs Charter 6, Hernando 1


Class 5A State Semifinals

@ Vero Beach


Marianna vs. Coral Springs Charter, 10:05 a.m.

Coral Springs Charter 6,

Hernando 1














































HER – Shenefield and Dowdell.

CSC – Godfrey, Varga (5) and Lueresen.

W – Godfrey (15-0).  L – Shenefield (27-4).

Records – Hernando (0-1 tourney, 27-4 overall), Coral Springs Charter (1-0 tourney, 28-1 overall)…



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