PINELLAS PARK — She was the county’s premier power pitcher, ready to challenge any hitter with her fastball.
Sara Nevins has an arm of steel. Her pitches hum along at nearly 70 mph, and she used that speed to help Pinellas Park reach the conference championship game and make the playoffs last season.
And now she is gone.
Nevins graduated in 2010 and is pitching for USF. Many questioned how well the Patriots would do without her.
The answer: Just as well.
Maybe even better.
Pinellas Park made it back to the Pinellas County Athletic Conference championship game. The Patriots (16-8) also are undefeated in Class 5A, District 12 and own the top seed in the tournament, which starts this week.
“It’s obviously tough losing a pitcher like Sara,” Pinellas Park coach Shane DeMartino said. “But I thought we could still be pretty good. Offensively, we had a lot of bats coming back and the team just had to pick up the pace on defense.”
In the past few seasons, the infield was a lonely place for the Patriots, due in large part for Nevins’ penchant for striking out opponents. But the infielders have played air-tight defense to help Pinellas Park cope with the loss on the mound.
“We like the action in the field,” third baseman Sammy Martin said. “We get outs quicker and it makes the game go faster. Plus, we want to prove that there was a team behind Sara.”
Martin has been the catalyst for the Patriots. The Daytona State signee leads the team in hitting (.431) and RBIs (23).
“Sammy has been a great leader this year,” DeMartino said. “But we’ve have a lot of leaders. There are eight seniors on this team. And that was big to have that kind of experience back. We’re just going to have a lot of holes to fill next season.”
Jordan Bennett and McKenzie Campbell, two seniors, have handled the bulk of the pitching load. While they are not strikeout artists like Nevins, they have been effective in keeping hitters at bay. The Patriots allowed just five runs in eight district games.
“We’ve been solid all around and that includes pitching,” DeMartino said.
Pinellas Park has also kept its tradition of holding kickball games before big games to develop team chemistry. The Patriots held their last kickball game on Wednesday.
“We’re teenage girls and we can have some differences from time to time,” Martin said. “This is just one way to help us bond more and become even stronger as a team.
“We’ve already accomplished some of the goals we set for this season and hopefully we can continue them in the next few weeks.”
6A-7 (higher seed hosts)
Monday: North Port (5) at Countryside (4), 4; St. Petersburg (6) at Sarasota Riverview (3), 7; Tuesday: North Port/Countryside winner at Sarasota (1), 7; St. Petersburg/Riverview winner at Palm Harbor University (2), 4; Thursday: Final, TBA
5A-12 at Pinellas Park
Tuesday: Gibbs (5) vs. Largo (4), 7; Wednesday: Northeast (3) vs. Boca Ciega (2), 4; Gibbs/Largo winner vs. Pinellas Park (1), 7; Friday: Final, 7
5A-11 at Tarpon Springs
Monday: Tarpon Springs (4) vs. Clearwater (5), 7; Tuesday: Dunedin (3) vs. Seminole (2), 4; Tarpon Springs/Clearwater winner vs. East Lake (1), 7; Thursday: Final, 7
4A-10 at various sites (higher seed hosts each game)
Tuesday: Lakewood (5) at Palmetto (4), 7; Bayshore (6) at Lakewood Ranch (3), 7; Dixie Hollins (7) at Osceola (2), 7; Wednesday: Palmetto/Lakewood winner at Braden River (1), 7; Bayshore/Lakewood Ranch winner vs. Dixie Hollins/Osceola winner, 7; Friday: Final, 7
3A-10 at Academy of the Holy Names
Monday: Clearwater Central Catholic (5) vs. Berkeley Prep (4), 3:30. Tuesday: CCC-BP winner vs. Academy of the Holy Names (1), 4; St. Petersburg Catholic (3) vs. Tampa Catholic (2), 7; Thursday: Final, 7
2A-11 at Bradenton St. Stephen’s
Monday: Sarasota Out-of-Door (4) vs. Admiral Farragut (5), 4.; Tuesday: St. Stephen's (3) vs. Northside Christian (2), 2; Out-of-Door-AFA winner vs. Shorecrest (1), 4:30; Thursday: Final, 4
2A-10 at Indian Rocks Christian
Tuesday: No. 3 Brooks-DeBartolo vs. No. 2 Indian Rocks, 2 p.m.; No. 4 Tampa Prep vs. No. 1 Bishop McLaughlin, 4:30 p.m.; Thursday: Final, 4:30 p.m.
A-9 at Canterbury
Monday: Lakeside Christian vs. Carrollwood Day, 5; Tuesday: Cambridge vs. Academy at the Lakes (2), 4:30; Carrollwood Day/Lakeside winner vs. Canterbury (1), 7; Thursday: Final, 6:30