Thursday, April 19, 2018
Sports

North Suncoast softball preview

NEW PORT RICHEY — When her senior season ends, it really will be the end for Gulf pitcher Madison Morlan. She'll later attend Auburn University, athletic endeavors behind her and eyes toward becoming a doctor.

The precision of her vision for the 2014 Bucs would impress a surgeon. And it would really be something if Gulf pulls it off.

"I want my last game, our last game, to be a win," Morlan said. As in Gulf winning the Class 5A state championship.

Incidentally, Gulf has only won two playoff games in its history, and the program suffered through a 60-game losing streak at the turn of the century.

So, right about now, River Ridge, regarded as the North Suncoast's top team, might start paying attention now that it is in the same 5A-8 district with the Bucs.

"A little competition never hurt anyone," said undaunted Gulf catcher Nikki Sedivy. "We've never beaten River Ridge. I don't intend for it to be that way when I leave."

Gulf has reason for confidence. Morlan, Sedivy, infielder Tarra Rice and first baseman Rachel Gardner make up the strong senior group that has led since they set foot on the diamond as freshmen.

After a 22-7 mark on the field last year — seven games were forfeited later because a player was found to be academically ineligible — the Bucs are off to a 4-0 start after Wednesday's 8-0 win over Hudson.

Coach Rick Hohenthaner, in his 12th season and far removed from the 0-48 start to his tenure, has things humming along smoothly. Gulf coaches spend almost no time teaching fundamentals. And that includes to the two promising freshmen on the roster, second baseman Amanda Crisafulli and rightfielder Alicia Boyolan.

"They've really acclimated to how we run the program," Hohenthaner said. "We run a strict, quick practice. The players are already prepared in the basics. There's not a lot of times where we have to stop things and say, 'Okay, here's how you do it.' "

Fortunately there's no need for this year's ninth-graders to do what Morlan and company did three seasons ago.

"They basically came out and said, 'We are the leaders now,' and there was some animosity," Hohenthaner said.

Talent undeniable, Morlan took over as the innings eater, Rice blasted onto the scene, hitting .343, and Sedivy and Gardner played regularly.

"We wanted to be taken seriously," said Sedivy, a vocal leader.

The moment that solidified the group's role came at the start of its second season, when pitcher Rachel Enerson turned over the reins.

"She gave up the circle to Madison — and went on to be an all-conference second baseman," Hohenthaner said.

Now the group wants to see it all come to a winning conclusion. They'll get help from sophomore Britney Pressler, who was hitting .500 through three games and is a quality second option on the mound.

River Ridge still has to be considered the favorite to win the district, but the Royals Knights were challenged by Dunedin in a 1-0 victory Tuesday.

So when River Ridge visits Gulf on April 1, all eyes in the district will be watching. The Knights took last year's matchup 9-1, so at the very least Morlan might know then if her master plan has any shot at playing out.

"If all the planets align, yes, on April 1 that game will be for the No. 1 seed," Hohenthaner said.

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