Tonight, local prep softball makes its departure — either for the year or for Lake County. East Bay and Sickles, the only county teams still playing, compete in Class 5A region title games, with the winners earning spots in next week's state tournament in Clermont. For the Indians and Gryphons, tonight's challenges are huge to be sure, but far from hopeless. Both are capable of advancing, but their efforts must be stellar. Dynasties must be dismantled, aces must be trumped and mistakes must be avoided. Here's a detailed look at this high-stakes double bill:
Bartow (24-3) at East Bay (21-7-1)
Winner plays: Melbourne Viera-Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer winner in state semifinals, May 12 in Clermont
How they advanced: Bartow (District 6 runnerup): def. Lake Wales 3-1, def. Haines City 7-0; East Bay (District 8 champion): def. Springstead 6-0, def. Plant City 2-0
In the circle: Bartow, which has arms to spare, is almost certain to throw senior right-hander Lindsey Martin, who allowed one hit in six innings against Haines City. East Bay, of course, counters with North Carolina State signee Kayla Cox (15-1, 0.22 ERA), who lately has shown no signs of the tendinitis that had her on the shelf a few weeks ago.
At the plate: Indians coach Glenn Rodriguez, who has scouted Bartow a couple of times, is concerned primarily about the Yellow Jackets' speed. Leadoff hitter Gwen Jones has come up huge in the playoffs, going 3-for-4 against Haines City. … East Bay's lineup has been solid but not spectacular. First baseman Elizabeth Nugent (.398, four HRs) possesses arguably the most dangerous stick and the team's best batting average. The bottom of the order has been suspect.
Did you know? Bartow, Polk County's longtime resident softball dynasty, won five consecutive state titles from 2002-06. The Yellow Jackets, however, haven't reached this round of the playoffs since that run ended.
Dugout chatter: "This would definitely be the best defensive team we've played against all year. What we did against Plant City by hitting the ball (in play) and making them make errors, I don't think that's going to happen against Bartow. We're going to have to hit the ball." — Rodriguez
Sickles (24-5) at East Lake (25-2)
Winner plays: Tallahassee Chiles-Niceville winner in state semifinals, May 12 in Clermont
How they advanced: Sickles (District 9 runnerup): def. Venice 1-0 (8 innings), def. Gaither 13-0 (5 innings); East Lake (District 11 champion): def. Boca Ciega 1-0, def. Pinellas Park 1-0
In the circle: Sickles ace Chelsea Oglevie (13-3, 0.96 ERA) is a disciplined, control pitcher who gets the ball in the zone and allows her defense to make plays behind her. … By contrast, East Lake junior Alyssa Bache (21-2) is a flamethrower with a mesmerizing curve who fanned 37 in a 17-inning game this season.
At the plate: The Gryphons, who amassed 15 hits in their five-inning mercy-rule romp of Gaither, possess one of the area's most potent offenses. The first five batters in Phil Giarrizzo's lineup are .400 hitters, led by Goff siblings Ashli (.642, 23 RBIs) and Courtney (.490, 26 RBIs). … East Lake's Nos. 3, 4 and 5 batters — Kirsten Bembnowski, Hayley Davis, Sydney Dinelli — each hit better than .400 in the regular season. Bembnowski (five homers) has been hampered recently by an injured knee.
Did you know? The Gryphons topped East Lake 3-1 in a tournament March 26, but Bache didn't play.
Dugout chatter: "I've heard of her for years and years and played her about five or six times through the years. She's amazing, honestly. She's probably the best pitcher I've ever played against. She throws hard and she has movement. … It's not going to be easy but I'm sure my team is capable of doing it." — Oglevie on facing Bache