Their historic trek has occurred mostly under the radar. For 2 1/2 months, the Freedom Patriots quietly compiled an 18-3 regular-season mark before a resounding run — equal parts clutch and cacophonous — through the region playoffs. To be sure, we've learned much about the mettle of this team in the past three contests, but what about its makeup? Just who are these girls? As the Patriots (21-3) embark on their first state tournament trip, we offer a closer look at Hillsborough County's lone final four representative.
If coach Autum Hernandez adheres to her postseason formula, sophomore Grace Street will start in the circle tonight before ultimately being relieved by Wharton senior transfer Katlin Hall.
Street (9-0, 1.06 ERA, 66.1 IP), a straight-A advance placement student whom Hernandez describes as a "silent leader," has worked the first five, 2 2/3 and four innings of each playoff game, respectively.
Hall (9-3, 0.94 ERA, 67 IP), the more vocal of the two, has finished each.
Hernandez said the rotation initially arose when the first playoff game, against Countryside, was scheduled for a 4 o'clock start on a hot afternoon. Street and Hall combined to allow six hits in a 2-0 win.
"They both have good stuff for three to four innings," Hernandez said. "Not saying they don't have it for seven, but they have really good stuff when they're fresh, so that was our philosophy behind it."
Battery bound by blood
If and when Hall takes the circle tonight, she'll be throwing to her freshman sister, Maddy. The second and third of Harold and Dawn Hall's five kids, the girls acknowledge they bicker and badger each other incessantly.
"We're with each other literally 24/7 …so we fight about anything and everything," Katlin said with a chuckle.
"But we never take it out on the field," Maddy added.
Their coach attests. "They are super competitive with each other. You should see when Katlin's throwing live to Maddy; it gets kind of intense," Hernandez said.
"But they also know what buttons they can push with each other and when they've had enough. Maddy knows when it's time for her to go out there and calm (Katlin) down."
What a Saturday for Sunday
With the first over-the-fence home run of her life, Patriots senior Caroline Whiteside evolved from steady Patriots bunter to the toast of new Tampa.
The youngest of Paula and Charlie Whiteside's nine kids, Whiteside — whose full name is Sunday Caroline Whiteside — hit a two-out, two-strike grand slam in the top of the seventh inning to propel Freedom to a 5-1 win in Saturday's region final at Sarasota.
Before stepping onto the Patriots' charter bus for the trip home, she estimates she had received 15 congratulatory text messages. At Tampa Covenant Church the next morning, her pastor announced her feat to the congregation, prompting applause.
"It was mind-blowing," said Whiteside, who bats in the No. 2 spot primarily to bunt over leadoff hitter Maddy Hall. "It's been crazy and I'm really blessed."
A year after Durant (a.k.a. the Cardiac Cougars) rallied in four of its final six games to capture the Class 8A state title, Freedom has — to a degree — followed suit.
Whiteside's homer Saturday was only the latest in a handful of palpitating Patriot wins. In the 2-0 region quarterfinal win at Countryside, Freedom strung together five consecutive two-out singles in the seventh, with Maddy Hall's full-count hit the winning RBI.
In last month's 3-2 win against Leto, the Patriots scored two in the bottom of the seventh, highlighted by Maddy Hall's suicide squeeze. They scored four in the seventh in a 7-6 win against Chamberlain on March 1, with sophomore Kayla Maczuga driving in the tying run and junior Rachel Carlson bunting in the winner.
"I always talk to them about being the hero," Hernandez said. "Don't be shy to be a hero."
Where: Vero Beach Sports Village
Admission: $9 per session
Parking: $5 for cars, $25 for buses
Class 7A: Harmony (27-3) vs. Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas (20-5), 7 p.m.; Tallahassee Chiles (23-7) vs. Freedom (21-3), 7 p.m.
At stake: Winners meet in Thursday's 7:05 p.m. title game
On the Web: We offer a closer look at Hillsborough County's lone final four representative, Freedom, at tampabay.com/hometeam.