Tuesday, June 19, 2018
Sports

Boca Ciega softball looks for respect, playoff longevity

GULFPORT — Two years ago, Boca Ciega made one of the most improbable runs in softball. The Pirates, 4-11 entering the district tournament, won five straight to make the state semifinals for the first time.

The players, most of whom were underclassmen, were confident they could start competing for state titles.

Boca Ciega coach Robin Little, who took over two years ago, was more cautious in her postseason prognostications. The Pirates moved up in classification from 5A to 6A last season. The district was more competitive. So was the region.

Once again, Boca Ciega made the playoffs, winning Class 6A, District 9. But any hopes of another state semifinal appearance were wiped out in a 6-1 loss to Auburndale in the region semifinals.

"I think the girls finally understood just how special it was to get to the state semifinals and just how difficult it is to get there," Little said. "It is not guaranteed."

Pirates pitching ace Caylie Van Auken was even more brutal in her assessment.

"We cracked under the pressure," Van Auken said.

That state semifinal appearance meant Boca Ciega would no longer fly under the radar — at least last season.

Now the Pirates are back to being an anonymous bunch. They have a solid record — 13-2 entering the week — and have already locked up the No. 1 seed in the 6A-9 district tournament that starts Monday. They also beat two-time defending conference champion Osceola for the first time in eight years.

Those accomplishments hardly go noticed in the Tampa Bay area, a hotbed for softball. Other programs have bigger wins, played tougher schedules.

Boca Ciega is hoping its recognition comes in the playoffs with another trip to state.

"I think we've learned what it takes to get there," Van Auken said.

There were some concerns at the beginning of the season. The Pirates graduated two players. The biggest loss was catcher Alexis Blasingane, now at Florida A&M. Blasingane was a three-year starter who called every pitch. She was just as solid at the plate as she was behind it, hitting a team-leading .667 last season.

"I was worried because I had such a comfort level with Alexis," Van Auken said. "She was the only catcher I had ever really worked with in high school."

The transition turned out to be smooth. Freshman Carmen Perez had plenty of experience as a catcher on the travel ball circuit. She also has been a solid hitter with a .465 average this season.

Another freshman, Alanah Rivera, leads the team in hitting at .500.

"Those two additions have been big for us," Little said.

Van Auken, a senior, has provided the veteran leadership. She is 9-2 with a 0.95 ERA and 103 strikeouts.

"I was in a leadership position last year, too, as a captain, but it was more difficult," Van Auken said. "I was a junior and there still were seniors on the team. It just became more easier this year."

The turning point actually came in a 3-2 loss to Palm Harbor University, the top team in Tampa Bay this season. Boca Ciega outhit the Hurricanes 9-6. PHU won it by scoring in the bottom of the seventh.

The previous two seasons, the Pirates lost a pair of games to PHU by a combined 26-5.

"Before, that was an automatic blowout," Little said. "I looked at the body language after that game this season. They were confident. They knew could compete with anyone. And that's only going to help us the rest of the way."

   
Comments
Rays journal: A 4-0 lead disappears in loss at Houston

Rays journal: A 4-0 lead disappears in loss at Houston

HOUSTON — The Rays brought up several of their top prospects so they can get as much experience as possible.And Monday that included seeing how the relentless defending champion Astros worked their way back from an early four-run deficit to sco...
Updated: 27 minutes ago
Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella pondered upside-down pitching in 2005

Devil Rays manager Lou Piniella pondered upside-down pitching in 2005

HOUSTON — Well before the idea of using a reliever to open games, as the Rays did against the Astros Monday for the 12th time, and then bringing in a starter was even a gleam in the eyes of the current Rays staff, former manager Lou Piniella wa...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Rays-Astros

Marc Topkin’s takeaways from Rays-Astros

RHP Ryne Stanek continues to look comfortable and confident as the game opener, retiring all five batters he faced. His six starts now cover a complete game, and he has allowed only two runs in the nine innings.OF Carlos Gomez's feelings about not li...
Updated: 2 hours ago

Sports on TV/radio for Tuesday, June 19

TODAYBaseballOrioles at Nationals7 p.m.MLBRays at Astros8 p.m.Fox Sun; 620-AMMarlins at Giants10 p.m.FSFDiamondbacks at Angels10 p.m.ESPNCollege baseball, World SeriesFlorida vs. Texas2 p.m.ESPNTexas Tech vs. Arkansas7 p.m.ESPNGolfPGA Professionals c...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Iceland World Cup Fever … catch it!

Iceland World Cup Fever … catch it!

TAMPA — Iceland isn't what it used to be. Literally. The Nordic island country is shrinking, what with global warming. Iceland's glaciers are getting smaller. If you took all that ice and laid it end to end, well, you clearly have nothing bette...
Updated: 5 hours ago
For starters: Rays at Astros, trying to stop a streaking champion

For starters: Rays at Astros, trying to stop a streaking champion

UPDATE, 6:40: Cash said he had a good talk with Hechavarria, and that he understood the situation. Cash said Hechavarria will get to play some, and when he does it will be at short. … RHP Chris Archer (abdominal strain) is slated to throw a bul...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Kevin Kiermaier set to rejoin Rays Tuesday

Kevin Kiermaier set to rejoin Rays Tuesday

CF Kevin Kiermaier is here in Houston and will work out with the Rays today, and said that if all goes well he will be activated on Tuesday.That would be a couple days ahead of his most recent timetable, which had him slated to return to Friday.Kierm...
Updated: 6 hours ago

Captain’s Corner: Tips on targeting American Red Snapper

American Red Snapper (ARS) season opened a few days ago and some types of bottom are holding bigger schools of ARS then other bottom types. The hard bottom areas that most fishermen prefer are holding large schools of ARS, but the fish have yet to m...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Barry Trotz resigns as coach of Stanley Cup-winning Capitals

Barry Trotz resigns as coach of Stanley Cup-winning Capitals

Barry Trotz abruptly stepped down as coach of the Washington Capitals on Monday after failing to agree to terms on a new contract, a stunning move that left the newly minted Stanley Cup champions without a coach with the draft later this week and wit...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Bucs defensive end Will Gholston says ‘no excuse’ for disappointing 2017 season

Bucs defensive end Will Gholston says ‘no excuse’ for disappointing 2017 season

Will Gholston is painfully honest about a 2017 season that wasn't anything close to what he wanted it to be. Ask him about last year, and there are no parentheses in his world to soften what he remembers here."I just played (crappy), completely. That...
Updated: 10 hours ago