Strawberry Crest wasted little time jumping into the county's always-strong softball mix last season. After going 13-10 in their inaugural season in 2010, the Chargers posted a 22-3 record en route to the school's first district title and region quarterfinal appearance last year. This year, the hunters have turned into the hunted.
"We came into this season knowing there was a target on our backs," coach Mindy Miltner said. "We weren't going to be looked at as the underdogs anymore."
For all the firsts last year's team achieved, Miltner knew 2012 was a different team.
"They understood what we were losing," she said. "But they have come out and worked hard."
Strawberry Crest lost six seniors from last year's team and has none on the roster this season. To boot, the Chargers have just four juniors this season .
"We are very young," Miltner said.
USF-commit Mia Fung, centerfielder Cacey Simmons and first baseman Savannah Bradley are the lone returning starting position players. Despite the turnover, the Chargers are 10-5 (as of press time), with three of those losses coming at the ultra-tough Bartow Tournament during spring break.
"That tournament was really beneficial for us," Miltner said. "We needed to see good competition and we saw some great pitching. The girls played really well."
Two of those losses came against state-ranked teams. Eau Gallie is ranked No. 2 in 6A while Bartow is No. 6 in 7A.
"A loss is always a loss but as a team we knew how good the teams we were facing," pitcher Brianna Alonso said. "There were a whole bunch of top-notch teams there and we stayed with them."
Another new facet of the Chargers team this year is their pitching staff. Alonso, who went 20-2 last year with a 1.41 ERA in 104 innings, almost exclusively handled things inside the circle. But with Jordan Bowers fully healed following knee surgery before last season and Bradley, Miltner has an unusual arsenal of three quality pitchers.
"It's an advantage to us because the other teams usually get different looks throughout the game," Miltner said. "It depends on a lot of things who starts and who will come in. They are all ready at any time."
Typically, most teams feature one pitcher who eats up nearly all the innings, but all three have thrown at least 23 this year. And it's not uncommon for all three to throw in one game.
"It's a completely different game plan than the last two years and that took some time to adjust to," Alonso said. "But I think it will benefit all three of us in the long run in that we're all getting rest and we'll be ready down the road."
The next few weeks will be important for the young Chargers as they jockey for district seeding with games against Jefferson on Tuesday and Sickles on April 3, their two toughest district opponents. And even though a lot has changed since last season, Alonso thinks adding a second district title trophy to the case is well within reach.
"I think we will win out district for sure," Alonso said. "The way we're going, with the unity we have, we can do it."
Brandon Wright can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.