RIVERVIEW — Truth be told, the Riverview softball team doesn't look like much.
Not so tall. Not so fast. The pitcher? Doesn't throw so hard.
When the season began, the Sharks weren't included by local newspapers as a team to watch.
Coach Angela Slater keeps that reminder, taped to her office window, with a bit of her own commentary. Scrawled across the picture of another team's pitcher:
"Permanent marker …blue,'' says centerfielder Briana Bell. "Oh, and bold!"
Bell laughs, probably because at the exact moment it is easy to imagine Slater earnestly scribbling away, eager to tape the article up. "She wasn't playing.''
But Riverview still is. And this is befuddling a lot of people.
Friday afternoon, the Sharks tuned up for prom by turning Countryside into chum. This sends Riverview, which hasn't been in the region playoffs since a state runnerup finish in 2003, into Tuesday's region final.
Slater doesn't know who her Sharks play next (it's Eau Gallie). Said she doesn't look. Couldn't even tell you who is in her bracket. But she knows that whoever it is will probably step on the field during warmups, take a peek at the Sharks and think: They don't look like much. Not so tall. Not so fast. The pitcher?
Doesn't throw so hard.
"That's good for us,'' said Taylor McCoy, that pitcher who doesn't throw so hard.
She is only a freshman, but is the tallest girl on the team. She looks more imposing than she is, as her economical delivery — step back, step forward and throw — doesn't produce pitches that make that pretty popping sound. They make outs.
In fact, eight of them went to Bell in centerfield. Two others were hit hard at third baseman Arika Zimmerman, who fielded them flawlessly. Five were popped up in the infield, including the last out right to McCoy.
None were strikeouts.
"People can think what they want,'' she said. "But they come up, and go back to the bench. It doesn't have to be a strikeout.''
If you're surprised — and most everyone is — you might as well get used to it.
Riverview may be young now, but it has a team of budding stars like Bell and McCoy and sophomore leadoff hitter Kayleen Boatwright. She was 3-for-3 Friday and scored the winning run.
They say she makes an out every once in a while, but I'd have to see it to actually believe it.
No, really. The two times I've seen Boatwright, including the district final, she's 7-for-7 with a walk, two doubles, two homers.
"She's that dang big,'' Slater says, making a circle with her thumb and finger you might be able to fit a piece of licorice through, "but when she unplugs one, she unplugs one."
Slater has won two state titles at Riverview, in 2000 and 2002, which is one more than any other coach in the history of Hillsborough County. She also took Riverview (2003) and Brandon (1989) to runnerup finishes.
Maybe this shouldn't be so surprising, because she can coach.
"My goal at the beginning of every year is get in the district finals, get in the district finals, get in the district finals, get in the district finals,'' Slater said. "From there, anything can happen."
Even for a team that they say doesn't look like much. Not so tall. Not so fast. The pitcher?
Doesn't throw so hard.
John C. Cotey can be reached at email@example.com