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Column: Eagles face tougher foe than expected

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Sat. May 14, 2011 | John C. Cotey | Email

Column: Eagles face tougher foe than expected

CLERMONT — Balls were lined past infielders, smashed to the base of the fence, hit into gaps and popped into the outfield.

Runners moved around the bases. Almost every inning, there was pressure.

This wasn’t the Alyssa Bache we have been used to seeing, but then again, this wasn’t the kind of team we were used to seeing the East Lake star pitch against.

At least not this season, when it all seemed so easy for the Eagles, who came into Friday’s Class 5A state semifinal unbeaten and untested, destroyer of opposing softball teams.

Maybe, in the end, it was just too easy.

State and national championships slipped away, or rather got slapped away by one of the finest softball programs in the state.

Okay, so yes, I thought East Lake would beat Bartow on Friday night.

But no, I am not surprised the Eagles lost 4-0.

Looking back at what I wrote before the game, I said five things:

I said Bache was too dominant and it was her time.

Friday night, she wasn’t dominant. Bartow crowded the plate, moved up in the box, and took away her curveball. As for the speed, well, you don’t think Bartow sat around all week fretting about that, do you?

I said a senior-laden East Lake squad was ready. They weren’t.

They seemed tight, a little listless, and there is no question all the energy in the park was coming from Bartow’s side. East Lake may have been on cruise control for too much of this past season.

I lauded coach Mike Estes. I think he’s excellent, but Bartow legend Glen Rutenbar made the key decision to crowd the plate and fluster Bache, who hit two batters and walked two others.

Brilliant.

I marveled at Sarah Schutz, Hayley Davis and Sydney Dinelli, who combined to hit .485 with 30 doubles, eight triples, seven homers and 110 RBIs this season.

Friday night, they were 1-for-9 with three strikeouts and two runners left on base.

The rest of the team struggled, too.

When the Eagles had runners in scoring position in the fifth inning, they needed to be aggressive and struck out twice looking.

When they had no one on, like the last two innings, they swung at first pitches and popped out (three times in the last two innings).

But everyone who has followed even a little bit of softball over the past few decades knew Bartow could win.

Rutenbar is a Hall of Fame coach, and he proved that.

The guy knows how to prepare his team for these kind of games and make sure they perform well in them. He had a plan of attack against Bache, against the East Lake defense and for his pitcher, Lauren West.

All executed wonderfully.

I said Bache hasn’t faced a lineup like this, and, um, duh?

“Kudos to them,” she said afterward.

The Yellow Jackets had seven hits, more than Bache had allowed in any game this season. They struck out only four times after the first inning, and two of those were by the No. 9 hitter. They hit the ball hard almost every at-bat and were extremely aggressive.

I wondered if East Lake’s lack of pressure situations would haunt the Eagles, and it did.

Bartow’s first run was going to score on a bunt regardless of the ensuing error that allowed a second run to score, but once the Yellow Jackets got two the Eagles were in trouble.

When they got runners on first and second in the fifth with no outs, they failed to bunt them over. Then with the bases loaded, they failed to produce the key hit.

When, really, have they ever had to?

And lastly, I said Bartow would win if its 2-3-4 hitters outperform East Lake’s 3-4-5 hitters. Well, Shelby Duncan, Emily Sanders and Lizzie Glass went 4-for-12 with two doubles, drove in a run, and kept the pressure on.

There’s a lot of people surprised today that East Lake fell so flat.

I’m one of them.

Maybe there was to much pressure.

Maybe it was just too easy getting here.

Or most likely, maybe Bartow was just better.

John C. Cotey can be reached at cotey@sptimes.com

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