Monday, April 23, 2018

Durant softball aims to defend state championship

Talent hasn't — and also in a strange way has — been a problem in the early stages of the Durant softball team's state title defense.

The Cougars are loaded with many of the same characters from last spring's Class 8A titlists. So much so that head coach Matt Carter has had trouble determining the batting order, who takes the field and who sits on the bench.

If you think it sounds like nothing to worry about, think again.

"It's tough," Carter said. "There are good players on the bench and you're hoping they don't get disheartened, or disgruntled," he said. "We probably won't have it all sorted out by spring break."

Several stars from last year's squad have their names virtually in permanent ink. Pitcher Paige Davis returns, as do Brooke Freeman, Shannon Bell, Alyssa Colding and Payton Lewis. All were hitting around or well over the .500 mark through the first four games.

Transfer T.J. Farrell has been added to the mix at shortstop.

Durant is 3-2 after being unable to hold a 5-0 lead in its District 8A-7 opener Tuesday at Plant. The Panthers scored four runs in the sixth to win 7-5. Bell hit a two-run homer for the Cougars, who visit Bloomingdale tonight.

Carter's team doesn't feel any special pressure to repeat as champions. Just getting through the very difficult 8A-7 is mission enough.

"They all know they have a huge target on their back," he said. "It all comes down to the end of the year and getting through your district. You can go undefeated and then lose that first district game."

Carter wasn't referring to Strawberry Crest, but he could have been. The Chargers have a tremendous lineup themselves, are off to a quick start and hope to get into the championship mix.

"We do talk about it," said Chargers head coach Mindy Miltner, as to expectations of possibly pulling off what Durant did last year. "But we're not gonna get ahead of ourselves."

She won't have to go any further than last year's finish to serve as a guide. Strawberry Crest was coming off a first playoff appearance in 2011, went through the 6A-District 11 schedule with a 9-1 mark and added a victory over Chamberlain, which went on to win the Class 7A state title.

All that was needed to get back into the postseason was a win against a Leto team the Chargers had already defeated twice, once by a 17-0 score.

And they lost 1-0.

This year, Chamberlain beat Strawberry Crest last week in a dramatic 9-8, eight-inning loss that saw the Chargers score three in the seventh to force extras.

"The fight we showed there, that was awesome," Miltner said. "We don't get shaken up."

The entire Charger lineup is a threat. Cacey Simmons proved that against Chamberlain: the No. 9 hitter hit a grand slam that put the Chargers ahead 5-1.

Freshman Kasey Locke has been added to the dangerous mix of standouts led by Megan Reed, Mia Fung and Savannah Bradley. Maddie Turner, Jordan Bowers and Trystan Reibsome are very good, and throw in sophomore Aly Masessa — it's a nightmare for the opposition.

Turner and Fung both homered in Tuesday's 12-0 win over Armwood. Freshman Scottie Todd struck out seven in three hitless innings. Outside of the Chamberlain loss Durant has won its other four games by a combined 57-0.

"They've got it all, offense, defense, pitching," raved Chamberlain head coach Bobby Diez.

And Miltner loves how vocal her group has become overall with leadership coming from all corners.

Durant and Strawberry Crest meet for the first time in a regular season matchup March 6 at Durant. The only time the schools faced off in softball was a spring tournament during the Chargers' inaugural year, a game won 5-4 by Strawberry Crest.

• • •

Plant City is under new head coach Amanda Sawyer and although the Raiders started off 0-3, the schedule had a lot to do with that. They gave Newsome a close game in the opener (5-4) before falling to Plant and Strawberry Crest.

The Raiders earned their first victory last week, 9-0 against Armwood. And on Tuesday they blasted Hillsborough in their District 7A-8 opener by a 21-0 score.

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