ST. PETERSBURG — Coach Jody Moore recently went shopping in St. Petersburg while wearing her Canterbury softball T-shirt.
Noticing the shirt but not recognizing the person wearing it, a shopper stopped Moore and said, "Hey, Canterbury softball. They're pretty good."
Moore marveled at the encounter.
"I definitely didn't get that my first three years," she joked.
Four seasons after taking over the Crusaders program, Moore has turned Canterbury softball into a household name.
When she arrived in 2006, the program barely registered a blip on the local scene. That season, Moore led a squad filled with sixth- and seventh-graders to an undefeated regular season, the school's first playoff victory and a spot in the region semifinals.
In 2007 and '08, Canterbury reached the region finals and advanced to the state semifinals a year ago.
Now the Crusaders are expected to make a deep playoff run, which is remarkable considering Moore struggled to find enough girls to field a complete team that first season.
"It's really cool because we built our players," Moore said. "We don't have a team filled with travel ball players. We took athletes and built them into softball players."
Canterbury (20-6) enters its Class A region final against 18-7 Cambridge (7 tonight at Canterbury) as a prohibitive favorite to return to the state final four for the second straight season. Cambridge lost to Shorecrest and was 10-run ruled by Northside Christian during the regular season. Canterbury defeated both teams.
Plus, Moore can point to a 4-2 regular-season loss to Clearwater Central Catholic should the Crusaders give in to overconfidence.
In that upset defeat, the Crusaders went through the motions, according to Moore, thinking they could just show up and win after blanking the Marauders 8-0 earlier.
"I think it was a well-timed experience because we can use that to show the girls that anything can happen if we're not ready to play," she said.
Moore doesn't foresee a repeat against Cambridge.
"I anticipate if we play our game and come out excited and do what we do best, we definitely should have success," Moore said.
Two-and-a-half hours before that matchup, St. Petersburg Catholic (25-3) will host McKeel Academy (4:30 p.m.) in the region finals with a trip to its first state semifinal on the line.
A year ago, the Barons were soundly defeated 7-2 by McKeel (14-15) in the same round.
The Barons, though, are more well-rounded this year, according to SPC coach Tom Fabian.
Last season, the Barons relied too much on the pitching of ace Chloe Saganowich. Saganowich, now a junior, is still in the fold and having a player of the year-type season, but supporting her is an offensive lineup that averages more than eight runs a game.
"We hope that's the difference this year," Fabian said.
That and the experience of playing in the region final for the second straight season.
"None of these girls have seemed to let the pressure get to them lately," Fabian said. "It's been that way all season."