ODESSA — Savannah Bennett and Amanda Rose aren’t your typical teammates.
It goes back a little farther than that.
Almost to the beginning.
From pre-school play dates to the playoffs, from playing make believe to making their dreams come true, from middle school when Carrollwood Day didn’t even have a high school to, four years later, a chance to win a state championship.
“This is really beautiful,” Bennett said. “We’re just so happy.”
The Patriots will load up and head out this morning for Vero Beach, home of the Class 3A semifinals, for a 2:15 p.m. meeting with Moore Haven.
It will be the first time any Carrollwood Day high school team advanced to a state tournament.
“When they asked me to be the coach last year, there was a condition from me and that was that we attempt to build a dynasty,” said Chuck Fest, the second-year head coach. “We weren’t going to be there just for fun. It was going to be something that would make history for these girls for years to come.
“I think we’ve made a little history.”
The Patriots are 16-7, and the kind of young and old blend you would expect from a high school program that’s just four years old.
Veterans who have been with the program since the beginning like Dena Bader and Samantha Fest, a trio of freshmen that includes leading hitter Emma Frost and pitcher Emalee Jansen, and even a 12-year-old sixth-grader, Kacey Akins, whose run-scoring triple ignited a comeback in the region championship win earlier this week.
On a team with only 11 players, each one is important, a point Fest has stressed to his team.
But maybe none are more important than the senior tandem of Bennett, whom Fest says is the heart and soul of the team, and Rose.
The two have known each other since they were 2, became friends in preschool where they would play in a little wooden house out back, and might be Tampa Bay’s most tuned-in battery.
Bennett, the catcher, and Rose, a pitcher, have a rare chemistry that began, Bennett jokes, when Rose was learning how to pitch and “left my shins bruised.”
They were middle-school teammates at CDS until Rose left for two years. Steinbrenner High, though, wasn’t the same. It was easy for Bennett to talk Rose into coming back.
“It didn’t click over there,” Rose said. “To come back and see how my old middle-school teammates had grown, it was pretty great.”
Last year, CDS won its first district title. This year, the Patriots won their first region playoff game …then their second …then their third.
While Fest said he envisioned the Patriots being in the position they are, Bennett said at the beginning of the season she was hoping for another district title and didn’t let her mind wander any farther.
“I wasn’t really thinking about state, just districts,” Bennett said. “You always want to hope, though. I knew we would be good. When we beat Lakeland Christian (in the region semifinals) team that ended our season last year, I thought we really had a shot at this.”
It would be tough to script a better story. The two preschool buddies, friends and teammates forever, going out at the state tournament in Vero Beach.
“I’m pretty excited,” Rose said. “We just need to go down there and do our best. And if we happen to come back with some extra jewelry, that would be great too.”
John C. Cotey can be reached at email@example.com.
When/where: Today; Historic Dodgertown, Vero Beach
Admission: $9 per session; $8 for parking
3A: Carrollwood Day vs. Moore Haven, 2:15 p.m.