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Softball: Watts is Lakewood's power supply

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Fri. April 12, 2013 | Bob Putnam | Email

Softball: Watts is Lakewood's power supply

ST. PETERSBURG — Lakewood’s Mariah Watts whips her fastball past a bewildered but swinging Northeast batter. She continues to reach back and fire away, racking up 10 strikeouts.

It’s a typical performance for Watts, who has 154 strikeouts in 16 games. Her most valued tool is speed. She can throw a softball 60 mph. She also has large hands that enable her to put a variety of twists and spin on the ball.

But of all the statistics she can pile up, this season’s most encouraging is wins. Despite the loss to Northeast, the Spartans are 12-4 and have the No. 1 seed in Class 5A, District 12 tournament. If Lakewood wins in the semifinals, it will clinch the first playoff berth in school history — a fact Watts did not know until this week.

“That makes me even more motivated to do well in these district games,” Watts said.

Watts, a junior, was impressive on the mound the past two seasons. But she couldn’t do it by herself. This year, she has the help of several freshmen, who are all experienced players.

The Spartans also have a new coach, Edie Shankle, who was familiar with Watts from her days coaching travel ball.

“Mariah’s a hard one to forget,” Shankle said. “I remember we played against her a few years ago, and she struck out all but one of my batters. So I was happy to have her on my team when I came here.”

Watts was groomed to be a softball player, but she has been surrounded by sports. Her father, Carl Watts, was a former football player at North Carolina and with the Tampa Bay Storm.

Watts tried playing everything: basketball, tennis, karate. But once she picked up a softball, nothing else came close.

“I just loved the sport,” she said. “It was fun.”

She started taking pitching lessons when she was 12, and her power pitching quickly became the buzz in the travel circuit.

By the time she started playing in high school she was attracting attention from college coaches. The summer after her freshman season she received her first offer from Wisconsin. Last season, she committed to the Badgers.

“It didn’t take long for me to decide,” Watts said. “I took a visit to Wisconsin and fell in love with it. Everything about the school was just calling my name.”

With her college commitment out of the way, Watts has focused on pitching — and winning. This season, she is 12-4 with a 0.51 ERA. She also has power at the plate, with a team-leading six home runs and 26 RBIs.

“Mariah has done so much for us, not just on the field but with her leadership,” Shankle said. “She has a great attitude and works well with everyone.”

The strikeouts and the minuscule ERA accumulated during a memorable regular season can have even more meaning if the Spartans earn what has been an elusive playoff appearance.

“This season it’s just come together,” Watts said. “We have a great group of players, and we feel like our time is now. It’s fun.”

District schedules
Class 8A-8
Where: Various sites
Schedule: Tuesday — No. 3 East Lake at No. 2 Sarasota Riverview, 7; No. 4 North Port at No. 1 Palm Harbor University, 4; Thursday — final, TBD*
*Higher seed will host

Class 7A-10
Where: Pinellas Park
Schedule: Monday — No. 3 St. Petersburg vs. No. 6 Clearwater, 4; No. 4 Pinellas Park vs. No. 5 Northeast, 7; Wednesday — No. 2 Seminole vs. St. Pete/Clearwater winner, 4; No. 1 Countryside vs. Pinellas Park/Northeast winner, 7; Thursday — final, 7

Class 6A-12
Where: Various sites
Schedule: Tuesday — No. 5 Largo at No. 4 Dixie Hollins, 7; Wednesday — No. 3 Osceola at No. 2 Palmetto, 7; Largo-Dixie winner at No. 1 Lakewood Ranch, 7; Friday — final, 7*
*Higher seed will host

Class 6A-10
Where: Sunlake
Schedule: Tuesday — No. 5 Land O’Lakes vs. No. 4 Sunlake, 7; Wednesday — No. 3 Tarpon Springs vs. No. 2 Mitchell, 4; No. 1 River Ridge vs. LOL/Sunlake winner, 7; April 19 — final, 7

Class 5A-12
Where: Various sites
Schedule: Tuesday — No. 6 Gibbs at No. 3 Boca Ciega, 7; No. 5 Bradenton Southeast at No. 4 Bradenton Bayshore, 7; Wednesday — Bayshore/Southeast winner at No. 1 Lakewood, 7; Bogie/Gibbs winner at No. 2 Dunedin, 7; Friday — final, 7*
*Higher seed will host

Class 3A-9
Where: Admiral Farragut
Schedule: Monday — No. 5 Clearwater Central Catholic vs. No. 4 Northside Christian, noon; No. 6 Indian Rocks Christian vs. No. 3 Admiral Farragut, 2; No. 2 Shorecrest vs. No. 7 Calvary Christian, 4; Tuesday — IRC/AFA winner vs. Shorecrest/Calvary winner, 2; CCC/Northside winner vs. No. 1 St. Petersburg Catholic, 4; Thursday — final, 4

Class 2A-9
Where: Canterbury
Schedule: Tuesday — No. 2 Cambridge vs. No. 3 Lakeside Christian, 5; No. 1 Canterbury vs. No. 4 Bayshore Christian, 7; Thursday — final, 6

Players in post

Teams in post

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