CLERMONT — Central Florida Christian Academy plays with youthful exuberance, reaching the Class A state semifinals for the first time since 2002 with a starting lineup that includes three freshmen, a sophomore and an eighth-grader.
But this is the part of the season when veteran leadership is served. As the drama builds and every game and every play become more intense, it helps to have a roster sprinkled with the proper mix of players who have seen it and done it before on the biggest stage.
Canterbury has that type of team.
The Crusaders are making their fourth straight state appearance and have eight players who have been there each time. Canterbury capitalized on that experience Wednesday, jumping out to a big lead before holding on in a 5-4 victory over Central Florida Christian.
The Crusaders (21-10) will play Boca Raton Grandview Prep in today’s final at 4 p.m.
“We were in Central Florida Christian’s shoes a few years ago when we made our first appearance,” Canterbury coach Jody Moore said. “Experience definitely helps. We’re older and more mature and know what to expect.”
The contrast between the teams showed in the first inning when Canterbury scored four runs by taking advantage of miscues.
Sarah Fleming led off the bottom half of the inning for the Crusaders and reached on a throwing error that helped her advance to second. She scored on another throwing error on an attempted steal. Canterbury had just two hits in the inning but was able to score thanks to two errors, a wild pitch, a walk and a hit batter.
“Canterbury has a great team that’s used to this stage,” Central Florida Christian coach Kristen Butler said. “We played great for most of the game, but that first inning set us back a little bit.”
Both teams scored a run each in the third inning. Then Moore stayed true to form by switching pitchers. Emily Winesett came in to relieve Krissy Longstreet in the fourth inning. In the fifth, Winesett struggled, allowing three runs to make it 5-4.
Then that experience came into play again.
Longstreet, who moved to catcher, had a conference on the mound to help settle Winesett.
“I just wanted to go out there and kill their groove,” Longstreet said of CFC. “I went out there and let Emily know that we were still ahead by a run and we would get the last out and score some runs.”
The Crusaders did not score again. But neither did the Eagles.
Winesett bore down in the last two innings, retiring six of the final seven batters she faced.
“I was a little nervous at the end,” Moore said. “But I knew we had great pitching and a solid defense that would come through.”