PINELLAS PARK — Pinellas Park junior Taylor Klinesmith happened to be shopping last summer when she found out who would replace Patriots all-state left-hander Sara Nevins. Suddenly the fact of having to replace Nevins, who had tossed 331 strikeouts her senior season and 1,160 for her prep career, didn’t sting as badly.
Jordan Bennett, a transfer from Osceola, became Pinellas Park’s go-to pitcher early in the season after an injury to Serena Mitchell. After tossing a two-hitter in an 11-1 victory over Northeast on Friday to help the Patriots secure their second consecutive Class 5A-12 title, she has proved a suitable replacement.
“It was kind of funny because we just started talking about different things and the next thing I know she’s telling me she’s coming to (Pinellas Park),” Klinesmith said. “It was pretty exciting news to say the least.”
With Bennett (12-4) controlling things on the mound, Klinesmith was instrumental in helping turn a 1-1 game into a runaway. The first baseman’s two-run double fueled a six-run explosion in the third inning, which also saw Sammy Martin (3-for-3, three runs) smack an RBI single and Keeley Thayer (2-for-3, three RBIs) hit a two-run single.
After the Patriots (18-8) scored three in the fourth inning to build a 10-1 lead, Klinesmith ended things early for Northeast with an RBI single off Vikings right-hander Samantha Wilkerson.
“We were still a team with Sara, but she got all the attention and the rest of the team didn’t get a chance to showcase their defensive ability because Sara didn’t allow the other team to put the ball in play much,” Patriots coach Shane DeMartino said. “No one talked about us much this year. They kind of used that as a little bit of motivation.
"They made their own statement and said, ‘Hey, we’re still here to play.’ ”