Sunday, May 20, 2018
Sports

Safety Harbor Stone Crabs headed to national softball competition

CLEARWATER — For girls with Division 1 softball dreams, the journey sometimes begins while playing for competitive travel teams — and even before they reach high school.

The Safety Harbor Stone Crabs offer local players the chance to refine their skills and prepare for softball at the next level. And with colleges getting early commitments from players in eighth and ninth grades, a little early preparation never hurts.

How early?

"What you've got here is literally the best 12-year-old team in the five-county area," manager Gary Kifer said.

Kifer and his partner, John Galloway, founded the club in 2011 so players would have a chance to compete against the top teams in the Southeast. Trips to Gainesville and Orlando are common, and the team has traveled as far away as Savannah, Ga.

The team will be going even farther at the end of the month.

The Stone Crabs qualified for the ASA National Championships in Bloomington, Ind., on July 27-Aug. 3. The tournament is open to teams from all 50 states. As of July 15, the Stone Crabs, along with three of their in-state rivals, were set to make the trip.

The fierce competition requires constant practice. Add in the hours of travel and that makes for a large time commitment for girls who have to balance schoolwork most months as well.

An average week for the Stone Crabs consists of three practices and anywhere from four to 11 games on tournament weekends. The team plays 10 months out of the year, taking off September and December. All in all, the Stone Crabs play around 130 games per calendar year.

For Mackenzie Smith's mother, Michelle, it's all about ensuring the girls make the right choices with their free hours.

"They think about softball all the time," Smith said. "When it comes down to whether they're going to the beach or they're going to be playing softball on the weekend, they want to be here."

The extensive practice and tournament schedule can raise questions about arm issues. Kifer counters that the softball throwing motion is a more natural movement. While he feels that overuse does not cause damage as it does in baseball, he still plays it safe with his pitchers.

"We are very socialistic in divvying up the innings because I don't want our pitchers throwing 20 innings in a weekend," Kifer said. "I'm a personal trainer, that's what I do for a living, so one of our emphases is on preventative work and stretching."

Kifer plays with a roster of 12 girls. As his players graduate, the coaching staff relies on the team's reputation to keep the roster stocked with talent.

"It becomes kind of a mild college recruitment process," Kifer said. "Everyone's a free agent all the time. Last year we qualified for nationals, so because of that we basically go select players."

In addition to keeping his players' arms fresh, Kifer does what he can to prepare them for college. He allows the girls to attend camps held at major Division 1 universities, and organizes information sessions for families about recruiting and scholarships.

"As far as letting kids know, there's a lot of misinformation out there," Kifer said. "We actually just had a seminar for our kids and families to help with that."

This already has some of the players excited about the future.

"I just went to the UF camp," Taylor Norwood said. "It was cool because a lot of the players got to come out and show us things."

All the hours of practice and work have led up to the Stone Crabs' trip to nationals.

"We've definitely scouted," Kifer said. "We know a lot of the teams throughout the country that we're going to be playing. You always have to look out for the Texas teams, California, Arizona, Georgia, and then you just don't know after that."

No matter the outcome, the tournament will give Kifer's players added experience that could help attract college suitors in a few years.

 
Comments
Expansion Vegas advances to Stanley Cup final

Expansion Vegas advances to Stanley Cup final

WINNIPEG — Ryan Reaves scored the winning goal, Marc-Andre Fleury made 31 saves and the Vegas Golden Knights pushed their remarkable expansion season into the Stanley Cup final, beating the Winnipeg Jets 2-1 on Sunday in Game 5 of the Western C...
Updated: 9 minutes ago
Lightning-Capitals: Familiar ground for Capitals as they face elimination

Lightning-Capitals: Familiar ground for Capitals as they face elimination

TAMPA – Capitals G Braden Holtby basically summed up playoff life for the Capitals after Saturday's Game 5 loss in the Eastern Conference final when he said the team never makes it easy for itself."No, we don't," coach Barry Trotz agreed Sunday...
Updated: 20 minutes ago
For Bolts radio duo, being fans at heart is key to their success

For Bolts radio duo, being fans at heart is key to their success

As the last tension-filled seconds of a tight playoff game wind down, high above the Amalie Arena ice, the play-by-play man becomes increasingly animated.Dave Mishkin, eyes bulging, face purple, jumps from his seat, holding the headset with his left ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Willie Taggart: ‘Pretty cool’ to be back in Tampa as FSU coach

Willie Taggart: ‘Pretty cool’ to be back in Tampa as FSU coach

TAMPA – After spending four years at USF, Willie Taggart was used to the reception he'd get as a head football coach in the Tampa Bay area.But coming back as the new coach at Florida State, Taggart said, was different."Pretty cool," Taggart sai...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Lightning-Capitals: In playoffs, Lightning and its town become one

Lightning-Capitals: In playoffs, Lightning and its town become one

TAMPA — The Lightning is a win away from a trip to the Stanley Cup final. Its Game 5 win Saturday, to take a 3-2 lead over the Washington Capitals, was another chapter of a story being written on the fly."Think about Game 1 in New Jersey,"...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Lightning-Capitals: Lightning keeps Alex Ovechkin under control

Lightning-Capitals: Lightning keeps Alex Ovechkin under control

TAMPA — Alex Ovechkin headed toward the Capitals' locker room two hours before the start of Saturday's Game 5 of the Eastern Conference final with the swagger of an elite athlete that suggested he was about take over a game and make life misera...
Updated: 1 hour ago
For starters: Rays at Angels, with Romo again as “the opener”

For starters: Rays at Angels, with Romo again as “the opener”

UPDATE, 2:27: If the Rays win today, it would be their first four-game sweep since Sept. 20-23, 2013, vs. Baltimore and first on the road since Aug. 16-19 here at Anaheim. … It also would be the first time they swept back to back series on the ...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Softball: Scouting the Academy at the Lakes vs. Lake Worth Christian semifinal

Softball: Scouting the Academy at the Lakes vs. Lake Worth Christian semifinal

Academy at the Lakes (24-4) vs. Lake Worth Christian (10-3)Where: 11:50 a.m. Monday at Historic Dodgertown, Vero BeachHow they got thereAcademy at the Lakes defeated Seacrest Country Day 11-1, defeated Canterbury 5-1Lake Worth Christian defeated...
Updated: 10 hours ago
Rays hang on to beat Angels 5-3 behind Robertson slam, get back to .500

Rays hang on to beat Angels 5-3 behind Robertson slam, get back to .500

ANAHEIM, Calif. – Playing .500 ball is obviously no goal, and the Rays certainly know that.But given where they came from, that terrible 1-8 start that oozed into 3-12 and 4-13, climbing back to the respectability of .500 would be an accomplish...
Published: 05/20/18

Captain’s Corner: Red grouper fishing continues to be good

Red grouper fishing continues to be steady in depths of 100-120 feet. Large bait stacks are holding a fish or two, but larger concentrations are on very small rolls and potholes in those depths. Zooming in on the bottom 10-15 feet of the water column...
Updated: 1 hour ago