Lake Mary Prep (24-5)
Playoff history: Lake Mary is making its third playoff appearance and first trip to the state final four. In both the 2006 and 2007 seasons, the Griffins fell to Pine Castle Christian in the region semifinals.
Scouting the Griffins: Sophomore pitcher Kathryn Taricano has started 24 of Lake Mary's 29 games, compiling a 19-5 record (eight shutouts) with a 1.29 ERA. Taricano fanned 145 batters this season and walked just 25. Taricano's twin sister, Laura, is one of the Griffins' standout hitters. She's batting .456 with nine doubles, four triples and two home runs. Lake Mary's top offensive threat is senior Breanna Collings, who boasts a .641 batting average and team highs in doubles (19) and home runs (10). She committed just one error all season from her catcher position.
Common opponents: Both teams lost to Trinity Prep during the regular season; Lake Mary fell 8-4, Canterbury lost 7-2. Canterbury split two games with Hernando Christian, winning 2-0 in February before losing 8-4 in April. Lake Mary defeated Hernando Christian 2-1 in a region semifinal game.
ST. PETERSBURG — Their practice T-shirts read "Building a tradition," but three years ago, any thought of tradition would have been deemed impossible for the Canterbury softball program.
Not after having a coach walk out and quit on the first day of practice, one that seven girls showed up for.
That Canterbury even fielded a team for the 2006 season is remarkable. Even more so is that the Crusaders have won three-straight district championships, have made two appearances in the region finals and, on Monday, will plays its first state semifinal against Lake Mary Prep at Plant City Stadium.
It's the closest any athletic team from Canterbury — a school with only 51 high school girls, one-fifth of whom play softball — has come to a state title.
Scrambling to find a replacement coach for a program beginning its first year of district competition, Canterbury head of school Mac Hall turned to Jody Moore, whom he had hired that year as the school's director of technology.
Hall knew Moore from his previous job as the head of school at Trinity Prep, where Moore was an assistant coach on the Saints' 2000 state title team.
He knew about Moore's pedigree, that she was a high school standout at Kissimmee Osceola who played in three state finals. He knew about her career at Rollins College, where she still holds career records for runs scored (135), stolen bases (99) and is third on the hits list (194).
Hall also knew that Moore could bring respectability to the Canterbury program.
"I'm pleasantly surprised that we're able to do this so soon," Hall said. "I knew she'd do a great job, but playing in the state semifinals in just her third year is remarkable."
Moore, however, wasn't so sure. She planned to join the coaching staff in her second year at Canterbury but wanted a year to get acclimated to the demands of her new job.
"We had this huge technology initiative at Canterbury, and I had to install an entire network," Moore said. "I knew it was going to be a major time commitment."
Moore was prodded by Hall's daughter Macey, who played as a ninth-grader at Trinity Prep and remembered Moore from clinics she had attended at the school. Macey transferred with her dad from a Trinity Prep squad that had won three state titles and hadn't missed the playoffs since 1994 to a Crusaders team that had played just eight regular season games the year before.
"She was used to a very well-oiled program," Moore said. "And then she came here, and it was like the coach left, they don't have enough players. I could sense some sort of sigh and a cry for help from her because softball is that girl's life. … I couldn't say no because she's a great kid and she loves the sport and gives 100 percent."
Macey and Moore set out on the recruiting trail, scouring the school for athletic bodies.
"We found some volleyball players, we found some soccer players," Moore said. "We just picked a lot of athletes out, told them it would be a lot of fun."
With sixth-grader Jennifer Crosthwaite pitching every inning, that first Canterbury team went undefeated in the regular season and districts before getting steamrolled by Cambridge in the region semifinals.
Last year, Canterbury was three outs away from winning a region championship.
Now, the Crusaders (24-6) remain two wins away from an improbable state title.
"The girls got better a lot faster than I or anybody was expecting," Moore said.