VERO BEACH — Palatka Peniel Baptist coach Jeff Hutchins admitted to not knowing much about Academy at the Lakes pitcher Lexi Kilfoyl before Tuesday’s Class 2A state semifinal.
So Hutchins started doing his research. He read article after article online.
“Finally, I had to stop,” Hutchins said. “I was like, no way.”
Kilfoyl, the reigning Florida Dairy Farmers and Gatorade state player of the year, led the Wildcats to their first state title last season.
This year, the Alabama signee has again played a pivotal role in helping Academy at the Lakes return to Vero Beach’s Jackie Robinson Training Complex to defend its title.
After learning about Kilfoyl’s accomplishments, Hutchins tried to downplay her superstar status, stressing to his team that she was just one player.
Turns out, Kilfoyl was more than enough.
The Wildcat ace threw a one-hit shutout and nine strikeouts in a 10-0 Class 2A state semifinal victory that was called after five innings because of the mercy rule.
“We don’t face anything like that all season,” Hutchins said. “We’re a Christian school so it was like David vs. Goliath. We had to go in and face Goliath. She as big as I am. I talked about her strengths. I tried to prep them for it. I said ‘Even everything I’m telling you, you’re not going to believe until you see it’.”
A 6-foot-1 power pitcher, Kilfoyl can be intimidating to batters from 43 feet away.
On Tuesday, she kept getting batters to take a seat. Through four innings, Kilfoyl had a perfect game going. But it was not all because of her. Shortstop Vanessa Alexander, second baseman Jessica Mott and centerfielder Tristen Gittens all made nifty plays in the field.
The only blemish came in the fifth inning when Kilfoyl gave up a single. It was the Warriors’ only baserunner of the game.
The shutout extended Kilfoyl’s scoreless streak to 31 ⅔ innings.
That was her pitching performance.
Kilfoyl had that, too.
She had the winning hit in the second inning, a two-run single that put the Wildcats (18-7) ahead 2-0.
In the fifth, Kilfoyl smacked a softball that ricocheted off the rightfield fence for a two-run triple. That put AATL up 7-0. The Wildcats added three more runs in the inning to end the game.
For Gittens and Kilfoyl, the only seniors on AATL’s roster, the rest of Tuesday was a breeze.
Both graduated from high school this past weekend.
“I’ll probably just chill out, maybe take a nap,” Kilfoyl said.
The rest of the team was not so lucky. They had to go back to the hotel to take an English exam. Wildcats coach Diane Stephenson served as the proctor.
The remaining test on the field comes against Mount Dora in Wednesday’s championship game. If AATL wins, it will become the first Pasco County team to win two straight titles and join Palm Harbor University (2004-05) and Canterbury (2013-14) as the area’s only back-to-back champions.
“To be back here and have a chance to win again is special,” Stephenson said. “Last year, with the weather, it didn’t have that state championship feel. Oh, God, we were elated to win . ... The circumstances were just so horrible. This is just so much better to wake up in the morning. The sun’s out. This really feels like we’re playing for a state championship now.”
State softball semifinals
Jackie Robinson Training Complex, Vero Beach
Admission: $9 advance, $12 day of; parking $10.
Class 5A: Hernando vs. Coral Springs Charter, 9:50 a.m. Thursday
Class 9A: Newsome vs. Coral Gables, 7:50 p.m. Thursday
State softball finals
Class 2A: Academy at the Lakes vs. Mount Dora Christian, 11:05 a.m. Wednesday
Class 3A: Admiral Farragut vs. Fort Pierce John Carroll, 4:35 p.m.