NEW PORT RICHEY — When her senior season ends, it really will be the end for Gulf pitcher Madison Morlan. She’ll be attending Auburn University, athletic endeavors behind her and eyes toward becoming a doctor.
The precision of her vision for the 2014 Bucs would impress a surgeon. And it would really be something if Gulf pulls it off.
“I want my last game, our last game, to be a win,” Morlan said. As in Gulf winning the Class 5A state championship.
Incidentally Gulf has only won two playoff games in its history, and the program suffered through a 60-game losing streak at the turn of the century.
So, right about now, River Ridge’s attention is gained. The Royal Knights are vastly regarded as the North Suncoast’s top team — and new district mates with the Bucs.
“A little competition never hurt anyone,” said Gulf catcher Nikki Sedivy, undaunted. “We’ve never beaten River Ridge. I don’t intend for it to be that way when I leave.”
Gulf’s confidence is well-earned. Morlan, Sedivy, infielder Tarra Rice and first baseman Rachel Gardner are the strong senior group that has been leading since they set foot on the diamond as freshmen.
After a 22-7 mark on the field last year (seven games were forfeited later with a player found to be academically ineligible), the Bucs were off to a 3-0 start heading into Wednesday’s game at Hudson.
Coach Rick Hohenthaner, in his 12th season and far removed from the 0-48 start to his tenure, has things humming along pretty smoothly. Gulf coaches spend almost no time teaching fundamentals. And that includes to the two promising freshmen on the roster, second baseman Amanda Crisafulli and rightfielder Alicia Boyolan.
“They’ve really acclimated to how we run the program,” Hohenthaner said. “We run a strict, quick practice. The players are already prepared in the basics. There’s not a lot of times where we have to stop things and say, ‘Okay, here’s how you do it.’ ”
Fortunately there’s no need for the ninth-graders to pull off what Morlan and company did three seasons ago.
“They basically came out and said, ‘We are the leaders now’ and there was some animosity,” Hohenthaner said.
Talent undeniable, Morlan took over as the innings eater, Rice blasted onto the scene hitting .343, and Sedivy and Gardner played regularly.
“We wanted to be taken seriously,” said Sedivy, now hands down a vocal leader.
The set-in-stone moment came at the start of the now-seniors’ second season, when pitcher Rachel Enerson turned over the reins.
“She gave up the circle to Madison — and went on to be an all-conference second baseman,” Hohenthaner said.
Now the group is ready to see it all come to a winning conclusion. They’ll get help from sophomore Britney Pressler, who was hitting .500 through three games and is a quality second option on the mound.
River Ridge still has to be considered the favorite to win Class 5A, District 8. But the Knights got a 1-0 challenge from Dunedin on Tuesday, and last week Sunlake pushed Gulf to a 3-2 score.
Still when River Ridge visits Gulf on April 1, all eyes in the district will be curious for the outcome. Considering the Knights took last year’s matchup 9-1, at the very least Morlan will know if her master plan has any shot at playing out.
“If all the planets align, yes, on April 1 that game will be for the No. 1 seed,” Hohenthaner said.
Times’ super 7
Records through Tuesday
1. River Ridge (5-0, 2-0): The loaded Royal Knights return most of last year’s key players and appear poised for another deep playoff run. River Ridge already has four shutouts this season.
2. Hernando (4-0, 3-0): No team has come close to scoring on the Leopards, and they don’t look to slow down anytime soon with Courtney Riddle on the mound and Megan Lane at the plate.
3. Mitchell (4-0, 3-0): The bats have been hot for the Mustangs, who have outscored opponents 52-4. That has to alleviate some of coach Scott Bisbe’s preseason injury worries (catcher Ryleigh Hill is still out; utility Leisel Johnson is limited).
4. Gulf (3-0, 3-0): No single player really stands out among the Buccaneers, but a consistent team effort has carried Gulf to two shutouts and a tight victory against Sunlake.
5. Nature Coast (3-0, 2-0): Two freshmen pitchers could lead to some bumps for the Sharks, but Abby Primavera and Alyssa Gonzalez have held off opponents so far.
6. Fivay (2-1, 2-1): The Falcons lost to Gulf but held on to overcome Land O’Lakes by a run. Jill McElderry led the North Suncoast in strikeouts a year ago and will be an asset for Fivay again this year.
7. Sunlake (2-2, 1-2): The Seahawks’ losses have come by just one run to district foes Gulf and Tarpon Springs. Nikki Taylor and Danielle Micciche return to give Sunlake’s offense some pop.
Players to watch
Louisa DiSi, Springstead: The Eagles have had a bumpy start, but with DiSi on the mound, they’re never out of games. She ended last season with a 1.93 ERA.
Lauren Evans, Academy at the Lakes: The USF commit returns with a swing that’s as powerful as ever, with a .714 batting average and .750 on-base percentage.
Makenzie Goluba, River Ridge: The Times’ all-Suncoast pitcher of the year for 2013 is off to a hot start, with 18 strikeouts and a 0.27 ERA through 26 innings.
Lindsey Hupp, Zephyrhills: The junior earned three runs against Wesley Chapel and had another against Tampa Catholic. She’s hitting .538 with a .600 on-base percentage.
Kenzi Maguire, River Ridge: The junior leads the team with a .647 batting average and nine RBIs through five games.
Jill McElderry, Fivay: One of the most versatile athletes in the county already has 32 strikeouts and leads her team with a .625 batting average.
Britney Pressler, Gulf: The talented sophomore is the Bucs’ top batter and sees time on the mound.
Courtney Riddle, Hernando: Hernando’s top player a year ago had six strikeouts in a recent win against Wesley Chapel, bringing her season total to 24 through 19 innings. The senior sports a 0.00 ERA and is always a threat with a bat.
Madison Stanilou, Mitchell: The junior is back from a knee injury and tearing it up at the plate with a .700 batting average, eight RBIs and three homers.
Morgan Tolle, River Ridge: The Times’ North Suncoast player of the year for 2013 led the North Suncoast in home runs (nine) and RBIs (48). She already has a homer and eight RBIs this season.
Mary Kenney, Times staff writer