Sunday, December 17, 2017

Region softball: Sister act still intact at Dunedin

For the past decade, it has become commonplace to see one of the Ehlers pitching for Dunedin.

Amber started this sisterhood in softball as Dunedin's ace from 2004-07. She went on to pitch for Hillsborough Community College. Ashley took over from 2008-11 and is currently at Saint Leo.

Aubrey has followed in the family tradition and is a three-year starter for the Falcons.

All three had success at the game's most important position, but Aubrey has the edge in one important category: postseason appearances.

For the third straight year, she has helped Dunedin reach the playoffs as a district champion or runnerup, something that eluded her older sisters when they played high school. On Thursday, Dunedin (18-6) travels to Hernando in the Class 5A region quarterfinals.

"I've had a little more success as far as wins and getting to the playoffs," said Aubrey, a junior. "But my sisters have helped me so much."

It was only natural that Aubrey would become a pitcher considering she tagged along to her sisters' games. But Aubrey wanted more. She wanted to join them on the mound. By the time Aubrey was 5, she was playing Little League. Her sisters were among her best coaches.

"My sisters were older, but I never felt like I was left behind," Aubrey said. "They've always given so much support, either by working with me or showing up at my games."

Aubrey would have daily conversations with her sisters about the nuances of pitching. She would get advice from Amber, insight from Ashley.

"I learned so much from them because they were pitchers, too," Aubrey said. "It's just so much different what you can pick up when you are talking to other pitchers. And we would talk all the time about different pitches and how and when to throw them."

Aubrey's sisters have continued to carry the family banner in college. Amber recorded 174 strikeouts at HCC in 2008. Ashley is 12-5 this season with a 2.35 ERA. Last week, she threw her first no-hitter in college.

Aubrey was unable to attend because she had to work.

"I followed it online, though," she said.

Amber and Ashley have been in the stands for nearly every game Aubrey has pitched in high school. The watched as their younger sister helped transform their alma mater into a bona fide contender.

As a freshman in 2012, Aubrey threw a three-hit shutout against Boca Ciega that secured Dunedin's first district title since 1991. The Falcons' playoff run ended that year with a loss to Auburndale in the region finals.

"My sisters drove to Auburndale for that game," Aubrey said. "I feel like I always do better when they're at my games. Just to see them there gives me so much relief. It takes a lot of pressure off me."

Last year, Dunedin won another district title but had an unexpected loss in the region quarterfinals. The Falcons used that loss as a motivational tool and have fared well this season with the No. 1 seed in the ultra-tough Class 5A, District 8 tournament. Dunedin lost to River Ridge in the championship game, which means the Falcons will have to travel in the playoffs.

Aubrey is 16-5 this season with a 1.45 ERA and 107 strikeouts.

"You're only as good as your pitcher," Dunedin coach Roy Silver said. "Aubrey is great at keeping her composure, locating her fastball and throwing her changeup with the same arm speed as her fastball."

Once the season ends, Aubrey will continue to give pitching lessons to younger girls, something she has been doing the past three years.

"They have improved so much I have to wear catcher's gear whenever we throw," Aubrey said. "It's rewarding. I wanted to give back after all that my sisters have done to help me get better."

8A-8: 'Canes fall short

Palm Harbor University's offense continued its late-season turnaround with 11 hits in Monday's district championship game.

But it wasn't enough as defensive miscues proved costly in a 6-5 loss to host Sarasota Riverview.

The Hurricanes (17-6) will travel to Alonso in Wednesday's region quarterfinals.

Logyn Lilley had the most impact at the plate with two home runs that accounted for all five of PHU's runs. Katie Flanagan, Rachel Taylor and Baily Wilson also had two hits for the Hurricanes.

Trailing 5-4, the Rams scored the tying run in the sixth inning. The winning run came in the seventh inning on an error.

"It was a tough way to lose, but that happens sometimes," PHU coach Kerry Katchuk said. "We're getting the hits to come around again, but we just have to do a better job in some other areas."

Bob Putnam can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @BobbyHomeTeam.

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