Friday, January 19, 2018
Sports

Plant City ties spark Saint Leo softball success

DADE CITY — Saint Leo's history in softball didn't suggest the Lions would make the NCAA Division II tournament. But with a couple of former Plant City stars' help, the Lions pulled off a program first.

And defied many expectations..

"We were picked to finish seventh in our conference. Out of nine teams," remembers pitcher Megan Still, a Plant City High grad and one of several area players who contributed to Saint Leo's unprecedented success.

Needing a three-game sweep at Florida Southern to clinch the school's first conference championship, the Lions delivered, winning three close contests, including an 11-inning affair.

It kept the Lions one game ahead of the University of Tampa, an edge they maintained by winning 17 of their last 18 games. The Lions finished with a 40-14 overall mark, 20-4 in the Sunshine State Conference. Last year Saint Leo was 22-32.

But Tampa got its revenge, defeating Saint Leo in the South I regional May 18. And the Lions were eliminated the next day by Albany State. But with Still and her former Raider battery mate's help, Saint Leo had a season to remember.

Still almost didn't make it for her senior season. For the second half of 2011-12 she wore a walking boot on her ankle during the day, and pitched at night. The offseason revealed a fracture along with a variety of ligament tears and it was time for surgery.

"When I was told I might not be able to pitch again, that was not easy . . . especially thinking I might miss my senior season," Still said recently, her eyes welling up a bit at the memory.

Coach John Conway said the plan was to work Still out of the bullpen but after an early-season start went well, she got another and it was game on. Still (12-4, 1.91 ERA) said adding a nasty inside curve to her arsenal has been instrumental.

So has the team's not-so-secret weapon. After backstopping Alabama to the national championship a year ago, Kendall Dawson joined the Lions coaching staff.

There was and still is no pitching coach, officially, but yeah it's Dawson

"I've been in a million bullpens, so no big deal there," she said. "I just mostly teach them the mental game. A lot of players don't get that in high school. That's what pitching is mostly. You're not going to throw a perfect game, odds are, so a lot of your success is on how you respond to tough situations."

And Still, a close friend of Dawson's as they played on the same Raider teams, can't say enough about her pep talks and the "championship inspiration" Dawson has added.

Conway also stressed the impact Dawson has had.

"There's nothing I can say that can match Kendall just showing the team her (national championship) ring," Conway said. "That's the first thing I had her do — show 'em the ring."

Dawson felt strongly about the Lions heading into the national tournament, mostly because Conway was not afraid to schedule tough teams, rather than piling up wins and statistics against weak opponents.

In an early-season tournament, Saint Leo took on Armstrong Atlantic, which finished No. 4 in the country, and lost 2-0. The Lions split games with Columbus State, another top 20 foe. Their conference schedule was front-loaded. After taking two of three from Barry, the Lions hosted UT and barely avoided a sweep.

"We went 3-3 against them. Last year we would've gone 1-5, maybe 0-6," said Conway. "I told our girls at the time if we wanted to win conference we had to win 18 in a row."

As it happened, 17-1 did the trick.

"From a pitcher's point of view, you just think about getting three outs in an inning so . . . 18 games is a big task," Still said.

At the end of the regular season, Still was named a first team all-conference performer. That's pretty good for someone who almost didn't pitch this season.

Darek Sharp can be reached at [email protected]

Comments
Why I love the NHL All-Star Game

Why I love the NHL All-Star Game

I love the NHL All-Star Game.Love it.Give me a game when Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin are teammates. Give me a two-on-one rush when Nikita Kucherov is trying to set up Auston Matthews. Sign me up for any game where the best hockey players on the p...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Fennelly: Lightning needs a reset on the road … pronto

Fennelly: Lightning needs a reset on the road … pronto

TAMPA — Vegas has left the building.Weren't the Lightning just arranging place settings for next weekend's NHL All-Star Game party?With that in mind, I headed to the home dressing room at Amalie Arena late Thursday night after the Lightning was...
Updated: 1 hour ago
NFL Playoffs: Reconsidering the franchise quarterback imperative

NFL Playoffs: Reconsidering the franchise quarterback imperative

TAMPA — So much for needing a franchise quarterback to reach the Super Bowl.Sure, the Patriots Tom Brady is back in his seventh straight conference championship game and his 12th overall. But check out the other schlubs under center SundayIt's ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Quarterback or bust for Quinton Flowers in the NFL?

Quarterback or bust for Quinton Flowers in the NFL?

ST. PETERSBURG — Reps have been priceless for Quinton Flowers this week, each to be maximized and handled with care.Yet he couldn't avoid handling some clumsily.On the opening day of practice for the East-West Shrine Game at Shorecrest Prep, Fl...
Updated: 1 hour ago
What do Rays look like now? What will they look like March 29?

What do Rays look like now? What will they look like March 29?

ST. PETERSBURG — Since entering an off-season planning major change and pledging to be open to "anything and everything,'' the Rays have made a few minor moves and one massive one in trading franchise cornerstone Evan Longoria to San Francisco....
Updated: 2 hours ago
Happy 15th anniversary to the greatest play in Bucs history: Ronde Barber shuts down the Vet

Happy 15th anniversary to the greatest play in Bucs history: Ronde Barber shuts down the Vet

Fifteen years ago today, cornerback Ronde Barber made what's considered the greatest play in Bucs  history, returning an interception of Eagles' quarterback Donovan McNabb 92-yards for a game-clinching touchdown in a 27-10 win in the NFC Championship...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Jameis Winston shares MLK’s message: Don’t lose infinite hope

Jameis Winston shares MLK’s message: Don’t lose infinite hope

Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston, only weeks removed from a disappointing 2017 season, had a relevant but larger message for teenagers on Friday morning: Don't let small setbacks keep you from your dreams."If you have a phone, if you have a pen and pa...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Greatest moment in Tampa Bay sports history happened 15 years ago today

Greatest moment in Tampa Bay sports history happened 15 years ago today

Happy Friday, Tampa Bay.Fifteen years ago today, Ronde Barber intercepted Donovan McNabb to shut down Philadelphia's Veterans Stadium and send the Bucs to the Super Bowl. Times columnist Tom Jones and many others consider this the greatest moment in ...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Rick and Tom podcast: Super Bowl berths on the line

Rick and Tom podcast: Super Bowl berths on the line

In their latest podcast, Rick Stroud and Tom Jones look back at last week’s playoff games to break down the upcoming conference championship games.Rick and Tom agree that New England should roll over Jacksonville but disagree on Minnesota-Philadelphi...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Reminder: Rays spring tickets go on sale today at 10 a.m.

Reminder: Rays spring tickets go on sale today at 10 a.m.

The Rays will put single game tickets for spring training home games on sale today at 10 a.m. via raysbaseball.com.The Rays are playing 14 home games in Port Charlotte, starting with the Feb. 23 opener vs. Pittsburgh. Tickets will be available at the...
Updated: 6 hours ago