Softball: New season, same end goal for Durant

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Wed. February 27, 2013 | Joey Knight | Email

Softball: New season, same end goal for Durant

TAMPA — A few leftover particles of the old Durant magic materialized Tuesday night.

There was junior Madi Taylor, smashing a two-run home run in the first varsity start of her life and second at-bat of the season. There was veteran ace Paige Davis, whiffing an Alonso batter on an outside drop ball with runners at the corners to end an inning.

There was senior Payton Lewis, ripping a two-run insurance single in the top of the seventh to seal a 5-1 win. At those junctures, the notion flickered in the consciousness: Maybe, just maybe, Durant can make the surreality of 2012 into a sequel in 2013.

Or maybe not.

In the Cougars’ universe, nothing will ever top 2012. Inspired by a terminally ill team mom (who died nine days before the state tournament), the Cougars won their last 10 games to capture the Class 8A state title. In four of their last six wins, they rallied.

“It was crazy,” Taylor said.

And you just don’t copy crazy. Journeys such as the one on which fate took the Cougars last spring simply don’t repeat themselves.

But even without taking such a powerful, poignant trip, coach Matt Carter’s club still believes it can arrive at the same destination.

Which is to say, replicating 2012 may be impossible, but repeating as state champ isn’t.

“Nothing’s going to be like it was last year, but (the coaches) are like, ‘Just come out, play your game,’ ” Taylor said. “(Carter) is like, ‘I really think we could go all the way again.’ So that kind of just motivates us.”

Seven players who started last May’s state title game, an 8-2 victory over Miami Palmetto, started Tuesday.

Five of them — Davis, Brooke Freeman, Kelli Tidwell, Shannon Bell and Alyssa Colding — hit home runs last postseason. Davis hit a walkoff homer in the region quarterfinals and allowed four earned runs in the Cougars’ final three games.

But for all their seasoning, these Cougars (4-2, 1-2 in 8A, District 7) aren’t a finished product, as evidenced by a four-error debacle in Friday’s 9-5 loss to Bloomingdale.

“And that just can’t happen,” Carter said. “You can’t do that in this kind of game.”

Subsequently, Carter has continued tweaking his defense much like he did last season, when he essentially reshuffled his entire infield. But the offensive pop is there, while senior-itis — an annual concern for Carter — isn’t.

And even if the Cougars can find defensive fluidity, emerging from their district — among the state’s toughest — will be challenging. Durant entered Tuesday’s game tied for last in the 8A-7 standings.

“We’ve done a lot of talking this year — a lot of talking,” said Carter, whose club rallied from an 11-run deficit to top Alonso in last season’s district final.

“They realized what happened and that we’ve got a big target on our back. Everybody wants to beat us this year. I know that. Not just because we’re in the other dugout but because of last year. So it’s tough, but they’re doing good with it.”

Softball super 7
Records through Tuesday’s games

1. Wharton (6-0): Wildcats, who lost only one significant player from last season (USF signee Monica Santos), already have wins against Alonso and Chamberlain. Huge game with Plant was slated for Wednesday.

2. Chamberlain (5-1): So much for the rebuilding phase. The reigning 7A state champ, which already has defeated Plant and Strawberry Crest, had some defensive replenishing to do but still possesses athleticism and pitching.

3. Strawberry Crest (6-1): The Chargers, who return everyone — and we mean everyone — from an 18-6 team, already have posted six shutouts.

4. Plant (4-1): After a season-opening loss to Chamberlain, Panthers have won four in a row (entering Wednesday’s action) including triumphs against Newsome and Durant.

5. Durant (4-2): Once their defensive issues are resolved, the Cougars again will contend. Pitcher Paige Davis is too good. So is the offensive pop.

6. Freedom (7-1): Patriots have scored nine or more runs in past five contests, but are at Chamberlain on Friday. Freshman Maddy Hall is batting .560 with four extra-base hits.

7. Newsome (4-2): Wolves, coming off a woeful 2012 season (7-16), made a statement with Tuesday’s 6-3 win at Bloomingdale. Both their losses, to Wharton and Plant, were by one run.

Joey Knight can be reached at jknight@tampabay.com or on Twitter @JoeyHomeTeam.

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