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BRANDON — Her original starting catcher is sidelined with an injured throwing hand. Her infield has been ravaged by various illnesses. Her offensive support consists of a .201 team batting average.
Seems Brandon junior Kayla Goff doesn’t have much going for her these days, except what may be the county’s most dominant right arm east of I-75. But in a tournament fittingly called the Spring Fling, against more than a dozen other teams, that one mesmerizing limb just might be enough.
If last year’s tournament was any indication, Goff can fling with the best of them.
“If it’s going to be a pitchers’ battle,” Brandon coach Jen Steadham said, “Kayla’s going to win.”
This weekend marks Goff’s return to the event that provided her greatest prep highlight to this point. In an intense clash of Kaylas at the 2009 Spring Fling, Goff and East Bay counterpart Kayla Cox dueled 13 innings, combining for 48 strikeouts. Cox collected a staggering 31 Ks, but Goff trumped her with a W.
Brandon prevailed 1-0 on Chelsea Gonzalez’s RBI single to center.
“Most pitchers kind of die off at the end,” Steadham said. “It’s almost like Kayla gets better. Her pitches, her spins, everything just moves more. It’s almost like it takes her arm to get warm and she’s there. So there was no doubt in that 13-inning game that we were going to win.”
A third-generation Brandon High student with an affinity for country music and a bright blue Ford F-150 pickup, Goff (9-6, 0.57 ERA) is native to east Hillsborough, but not the inside of a pitcher’s circle.
Though she has played softball — slow and fast pitch — since age 8, she took up pitching only about five years ago.
“When I started playing fast pitch it was more of a pitcher-catcher game, and when I played slow pitch it was more of a fielder’s game, and I realized that and I didn’t like just standing around,” said Goff, 17.
“I liked being involved.”
With the help of dad Glenn, a former catcher, she set out in her sprawling Brandon backyard and embarked on her transformation. The initial workouts, she recalls, were atrocious, typically ending with her running inside the house in tears.
“But I kept with it,” she said.
A half decade later, she leads Hillsborough County with 186 strikeouts in 98 innings. Despite her six losses, Goff has surrendered only eight earned runs.
In a 3-1 loss to Bloomingdale this month, the Bulls scored all their runs in the first inning, but only one was earned. In a 4-1 loss to Durant, when the Cougars scored three in the top of the 10th inning, none of the runs were earned, though Goff threw a pair of wild pitches and walked three.
“Very frustrating,” Goff said, “especially in big games.”
What she periodically lacks in command she atones for with a productive bat — her .375 average leads the Eagles by far — and an arsenal of nearly a half-dozen pitches.
Goff, whose tutors over the years include locally renowned pitching coach Lou DiPietro, has a fastball that can reach the mid 60s, a curve, changeup and a screwball that can alternately rise or drop.
“To be able to call a pitch and her hit that spot every single time, that’s a coach’s dream,” said Steadham, whose 9-7 club enters on a four-game win streak.
“Her changeup has been a big thing that we’ve incorporated this year. She had it last year, I just didn’t incorporate it as much as we should have. This year that’s been a huge difference.”
This weekend, in a tournament where one hot pitcher can render a huge impact, it could be all the difference.
Where: Fishhawk Athletic Complex (hosted by Riverview High, which has a first-round bye)
Admission: $6 for a single day, $10 for a weekend tournament wristband (children under 12 admitted free with a paying adult)
Teams: Alonso, Bloomingdale, Brandon, Durant, East Bay, Lakeland George Jenkins, Lakewood Ranch, Mitchell, Newsome, Plant, Riverview, Robinson, Strawberry Crest, Orlando University, Wharton
Friday: George Jenkins vs. Wharton, 2; Bloomingdale vs. Robinson, 2; Strawberry Crest vs. Durant, 2; Alonso vs. Newsome, 2; Plant vs. Lakewood Ranch, 4; Mitchell vs. Brandon, 4; University School vs. East Bay, 4; quarterfinals, 6 and 8
Saturday: semifinals, 10; consolation games, noon and 2; final, 4