Moment of truth: Hernando tackles 4-time defending state champion Coral Springs Charter in Thursday morning’s state semifinal

LEOPARD SENIORS – Hernando High’s Class of 2019 seniors features (left to right): Ali Shenefield, Nakayla Roberts and Madyson Lamp. Photo by TONY CASTRO

SOFTBALL

Panthers start two

players seeking their

fifth state title rings

By TONY CASTRO

HernandoSport.com

In the 1980’s Madonna bested summed up a generation with her rendition of “Material Girl.”

But 30 years later, winning championships – and wearing the bling – is what most prep athletes covet.

To that end, Broward County’s Coral Springs Charter Panthers’ softball program – has few rivals.

Coral Springs Charter Panthers

The Panthers (27-1) – the No. 8 ranked team in the nation, according to MaxPreps, is seeking to extend its current 26-game winning streak.

Seventh-year CSC skipper Mark Montimurro, in his fifth straight Class 5A Final Four, is vying for his eighth state title overall beginning at 9:50 a.m. Thursday at Vero Beach’s Jackie Robinson Training Center against Hernando High (27-3).

WWJB (AM) 1450, 103.9 FM “The Boot” , 92.3 FM and steaming on your I-phone app will carry the Hernando vs. Coral Springs game “live” beginning at 10 a.m.  In his 28th season, the play-by-play announcer is Tony Castro. Color commentary will be provided by Coach Jug Olmstead.

Moreover, two Panther seniors – shortstop Lindsey Garcia, who is committed to Auburn, and centerfielder Sara Berthiaume (Florida Atlantic University) – are each seeking “one for the thumb“ – a fifth straight state championship ring.

The Center was formerly known as Dodgertown until earlier this year.

Marianna Bulldogs

In the first of two state semifinals Thursday, the Marianna Bulldogs (26-1-1) face the Wauchula-Hardee County Wildcats (18-11) at 8:35 a.m.

Wauchula-Hardee County Wildcats

The two semifinal winners will clash at 10:05 a.m. Friday for the Class 5A State Championship.

While the Panthers are seeking its fifth straight, Marianna, Hardee and Hernando are all attempting to bag its elusive first state championship banner.

This marks the third attempt for Hernando in 30 fast-pitch seasons – the first two were at Auburndale in 2000-01 under HHS Hall of Fame mentor Ernie Chatman.

The Marianna Bulldogs are in the midst of its third straight trip to the Final Four.

Meanwhile, Hardee Co. is making its Final Four debut.

Panthers 411

Montimurro, a St. Thomas University graduate, has guided the softball fortunes at Taravella High (twice), Hollywood Christian (where he captured state titles in 2003-04), Douglas, and University School before spending the last seven seasons at the helm at CSC.

Remarkably, Montimurro, 47, has never suffered a losing season in his 21-year run.

He’s pieced together five straight seasons of at least 26 victories.

Mark Montmurro

After garnering his fourth state title at CSC – a fifth would tie the state record held by Bartow from 2002-06 – Montimurro was feted as the Florida Dairy Farmers’ Coach of the Year.

He enters Vero Beach with a dazzling 492-110 (82 percent) lifetime slate, highlighted by a 183-20 run (90 percent) at CSC.

The Panthers enter with a collective (are you sitting down?) .468 batting average. Only one batter is hitting less than .200 on its 16-member roster.

CSC, which has five seniors, averages 9.82 hits per game and 11.8 runs per game.

Lindsey Garcia

Garcia, who is hitting .577, with a staggering on-base percentage of .670 and a slugging percentage of 1.153, leads the team in hits (45), extra-base hits (22), homers (10), and runs scored (52).

Berthiaume is hitting .512 behind 41 hits, 38 runs scored and 25 RBI.

Senior Shannon Doherty, who is committed to the University of Central Florida, is hitting .487 behind 38 hits, 40 runs scored and a team-best 45 RBI.

In the circle, the Panthers have utilized three hurlers led by freshman Briana Godfrey (14-0) with 31 walks and 86 punchouts across 65.0 innings.

Other pitchers include junior Cassidy Crump (9-0), who has started 10 games compared to Godfrey’s 13, with 15 walks and 46 Ks in 37 innings.

CSC’s third option is junior Alina Varga. She’s 4-1 overall with 11 walks and 30 strikeouts across 33.0 innings.

Montimurro defended his team’s motto, “The gold standard.”.

“We feel like our program is the ‘Gold Standard’ in South Florida. All others should aspire to be like – from our style to our winning system.”

Mark Montimurro

Though this officially serves as the first-ever meeting between the two schools, Montimurro is familiar with Hernando and the friendly confines of Tom Varn Park.

Montimurro guided Fort Lauderdale’s University School past HHS in the finals of the first Leopard Slam in Brooksville in 2012, 4-0.

Three years later in 2015, Montimurro helped guide CSC past Bushnell-South Sumter in the fourth Slam finale 5-0.

Leopards 101

Unlike the Panthers, the Leopards head into Indian River County riding a modest 3-winning streak.

After being upset by second-year Cypress Creek in the 5A-7 finals at TVP, 7-5, the Leopards became road warriors clinching its third-ever regional title.

HHS, feels like its been battle tested entering Vero Beach with a 15-1 mark on the road – its lone loss was in Spring Hill to Springstead, 3-0.

The Hernando County and 5A-II champions, were in the Leopard Slam finals this year – losing to Sickles, 2-0.

But HHS bested Miami-Westminister Christian at Belleview’s Doc-4-Life tournament, 1-0.

HHS arrives hitting a collective .399 as team averaging 10.3 hits and 9.1 runs per game.

Thirteen of the team’s 17 players are hitting above .300.

Madyson Lamp follows a fly ball during the game with Cypress Creek. Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO

Leading the offense are three seniors: designated hitter Madison Lamp, pitcher Ali Shenefield and right fielder Nakayla Roberts.

Lamp, hitting .527, leads all Hernando County batters in homers (8), on-base percentage (.657) and slugging percentage (1.000).

The two-time All-County selection has collected 38 hits and driven in 41 runs batted in.

Nakayla Roberts

Roberts, a multiple All-County selection in basketball, softball and track and field, is batting .372.

Another two-time all-star, Shenefield, arrives hitting .467. She spanked 43 hits, including 31 singles. She’s driven in 33 RBI.

Taliyah Dowdell

Junior catcher Taliyah Dowdell, who is batting .455, leads the local circuit in games played (30), at-bats (101), hits (46), extra-base hits (17), triples (5) and RBI (43).

Defensively, the 2018 all-star Dowdell leads the county in total chances (387), put outs (380) and fielding percentage (.995).

In the circle, the 5-foot-3 Shenefield, whose headed to Winter Park’s D-I Rollins College, has almost rewritten the HHS pitching records.

She arrives 25-3 overall this season with 28 complete games in 28 starts.

Over 167.0 innings, she issued a meager 27 walks while fanning 361 batters. The veteran right-hander has accumulated 18 shutouts this year season and accumulated 45 bagels over her four-year career.

Scouting report

Kevin Bittinger. Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO

HHS’ 14th-year skipper Kevin Bittinger didn’t hold back on the glossy scouting report about the Panthers.

“They’re fast. Probably the fastest team we’ll play and they like to slap and run. They’re the kind of team that likes to put the ball in play,” noted Bittinger, following his first regional title in five attempts.

“They’ve got a team that can slap and run and they’ve got two girls who can rake, including the shortstop (Garcia).“

On whether the Leopards were attempting to down play the pressure factor by calling this “just another game.”

“We’re not selling this as just another game,” insisted Bittinger. “Because its not. It’s a huge game and we’re telling it to out girls upfront so they can start to prepare for it.

“I learned 17 years ago – from my first middle school coach, Tom Dye, don’t lie to the kids. Tell them the truth,” stressed Bittinger. “Well, we are. It’s a big game. The game will be broadcast on radio and everything.”

On his team’s strength, “This is a smart group of girls We’ve won three straight on the road. To me, the pressure is on Coral Springs. They’re trying to win this five times in a row. But it’s the playoffs, the kids will be nervous for both teams. The sooner we get to a point in a game where we settle in, the better.”

Ali Shenefield                                                                                                                                                  Photo by JOE DiCRISTOFALO

On HHS’ keys to success, “Ali (Shenefield) has at times carried us on her shoulders. When she’s seen somebody once, she’s been really effective.

“… Our catcher Taliyah, doesn’t get enough credit for all the framing of pitches she does behind the plate. It starts every game with those two.

“… Next, we‘re not asking our defense to stand on its head, but just make the routine plays. Just do what we‘re capable of doing,” shared the HHS mentor.

On the Leopards‘ mood prior to arriving – three hours and 187 miles away – at Indian River County, “We’ve handled finals at the Slam, the Doc For Life, districts and regionals. We’re a better team because of that loss to Cypress Creek in districts,” defined Bittinger. “Everyone’s nerves, including their’s will be on edge. We haven’t been in this environment before, but Ali has acted as our eraser.

“…I can’t predict the future,” added Bittinger. “But when she sees somebody for the first time, she’s awfully tough. We’re the visitors walking in. I’d love for us to score first. I think the girls will be ready.”

2019 “Road to the Show”

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

04-29:

Quarterfinals

Hernando – bye

NCT 11, Hudson-Fivay 0 (4.5 Innings)

04-30:

Quarterfinals

Hudson 15, Central 0 (3.5)

Cypress Creek 16, Gulf 1 (4.5)

05-01:

Semifinals

Cypress Creek 8, NCT 3

Hernando 9, Hudson 1

05-02:

Championship

Cypress Creek 7, Hernando 5

05-07:

Class 5A, Region II Quarterfinals

@ Wesley Chapel

Cypress Creek 6, Pierson-Taylor 4

@ Orlando

Hernando 4, Bishop Moore Catholic 0

05-14:

Class 5A, Region II Semifinals

@ Eustis

Alachua-Santa Fe 5, Eustis 3

05-15:

Class 5A, Region II Semifinals

@ Wesley Chapel

Hernando 8, Cypress Creek 7

05-17:

Class 5A, Region II Semifinals

@ Alachua

Hernando 1, Santa Fe 0

05-23:

Class 5A State Semifinals

@ Vero Beach’s Jackie Robinson Training Complex

Marianna (26-1-1) vs. Hardee County (18-11), 8:35 a.m.

Hernando (27-3) vs. Coral Springs Charter (27-1), 9:50 a.m.

05-24:

Class 5A State Semifinals

@ Vero Beach’s Jackie Robinson Training Complex

Championship, 10:05 a.m.

AT A GLANCE

WHAT – FHSAA Class 5A, State Semifinals Fast-Pitch Softball Tournament.

WHO – Four teams in a single-elimination fast-pitch tournament featuring: Brooksville-Hernando Leopards (27-3), Coral Springs Charter Panthers (27-1), Marianna Bulldogs (26-1-1) and Wauchula-Hardee County Wildcats (18-11). The three=time defending state is Coral Springs Charter.

WHERE – Jackie Robinson Training Complex – formerly Dodgertown – in Vero Beach.

WHEN – Thursday, May 23 semifinals: Marianna vs. Hardee County, 8:35 a.m., Hernando vs. Coral Springs Charter, 9:50 a.m.

AT STAKE – Semifinal winners advance to the Class 5A State Finals at 10:05 a.m. Friday, May 24.

WWJB (AM) 1450, 103.9 FM “The Boot” , 92.3 FM and steaming on your I-phone app will carry the Hernando vs. Coral Springs game “live” beginning at 10 a.m.  In his 28th season, the play-by-play announcer is Tony Castro. Color commentary will be provided by Coach Jug Olmstead.

 

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