TAMPA — Amid arid midday heat, beneath a blue sky mostly bereft of clouds, Bobby Diez’s biggest concern was a power outage.
Not one borne of lightning, but a layoff. During this maddening 10-day interval between playoff games, Chamberlain’s veteran coach has employed a smorgasbord of methods to keep his scorching offense sharp.
“You know, we’ve tried all different kinds of things,” Diez said before Tuesday’s practice, where the Chiefs were gearing up for Friday afternoon’s Class 7A state semifinal against Cooper City in Clermont. “We’re kind of just keeping it normal, I keep preaching normal.”
Lately, the Chiefs’ idea of normal has been a slugging surge just south of Josh Hamilton. Chamberlain (25-5), in the state tournament for the first time in five years, is crushing the ball by committee. Four players have at least three home runs this season.
“You can’t not pitch to anybody, you have to pitch to everybody,” senior centerfielder Madison “Madi” Gonzalez said. “Our whole lineup, from top to bottom, is very powerful.”
A superficial gander at the statistics may suggest otherwise.
LSU-bound senior shortstop Bianka Bell is enjoying one of the best offensive seasons (.724, 11 home runs, 34 RBIs) in county history. A package of bat speed and foot speed at the leadoff spot, she’s essentially a double waiting to happen even when walked.
But Diez suggests the Chiefs are back in the final four in part because Bell has eight other hitters protecting her. In three playoff games, the top six hitters in Diez’s order are batting at least .333. Every batter has least one hit during that span; seven have at least two.
Not coincidentally, the Chiefs have scored 24 runs, with five homers, in the postseason.
“Last week I would tell you that there really weren’t any holes (in the batting order),” said Diez, whose team hasn’t played since an 8-0 region final romp of Okeechobee on May 1.
“But this is the thing, trying to stay sharp for 10 days. … Bianka gets all the press and it’s well deserved, but it’s the people around her.”
Among Bell’s primary protectors: catcher Lindsey Hagberg, hitting .500 with 28 RBIs in the No. 2 spot; and Drexel-bound third baseman Ellen Scott (.354), who has five homers and 40 RBIs at No. 3. Six of the seven players with at least 75 at-bats are hitting .314 or better.
“If everybody’s hitting, there’s not really anyone you can pitch to,” said Scott, whose team has totaled 25 home runs this season.
“I feel like our lineup’s pretty solid all the way around, especially the bottom of the lineup lately. They’ve been really good at getting on base and just getting on for the top of our lineup. Everybody’s just really hitting the ball.”
Throw in the command and consistency of junior ace Rachel Dwyer (1.27 ERA), and a defense Diez says has been stellar of late, and the Chiefs have evoked memories of the Diez-led dynasty that reached the state tournament six times in a nine-year span (1999-2007).
“The key to our team is Rachel throwing ground balls and we’re playing defense,” Diez said. “And then, you know, we get a run or two or three or four, and it usually holds up.”
Joey Knight can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Six of the seven Chamberlain players with at least 75 at-bats are hitting .314 or better
Pos, player AB Avg Key stat
SS Bianka Bell 87 .724 11 HRs, 34 RBIs
C Lindsey Hagberg 90 .500 11 doubles
1B Kelly Smith 75 .387 two doubles in postseason
OF Zalonzia Canady 95 .379 three triples, 18 RBIs
3B Ellen Scott 82 .354 5 HRs, 40 RBIs
CF Madison Gonzalez 86 .314 3 HRs, 23 RBIs
National Training Center at Clermont
Admission: $9 per session
7A semifinal: Cooper City vs. Chamberlain, 2 p.m. Friday
8A semifinal: Durant vs. Jacksonville Mandarin, 7 p.m. Sunday