State softball: East Bay advances to Class 5A final

CLERMONT — Much to her annoyance, East Bay senior Kayla Cox's turbocharged right arm has a glaring tendency to overshadow teammates even as it overpowers hitters.

But on a bright, breezy Wednesday afternoon, in a stadium nestled in a crevice on a Clermont hillside, Cox gladly shared the season's biggest stage.

This victory was every bit the result of an Indians ensemble performance.

Complementing the two-hitter turned in by their 5-foot-10 ace, the Indians (23-7-1) smacked timely hits and played error-free defense to coast to a 4-0 win against Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer (24-8) in the Class 5A state semifinals.

"(Cox) was pretty great; as advertised, I'll put it that way," said Panthers coach Joe DellaRocca, who watched the North Carolina State signee strike out 12 and retire the first 10 batters she faced.

"But where they may sell their team short in the newspapers and things like that is the rest of the team. I think the rest of their team was pretty impressive."

Cox and company advance to the 5A state title game at 7 tonight against Niceville (27-4) at the National Training Center, where East Bay will try to capture the program's first state tournament. Nice-ville beat East Lake 1-0 with a two-out run-scoring single in the sixth inning of the later semifinal.

After Wednesday's game, exactly no Indians player or coach voiced surprise at the historic precipice at which they find themselves.

"In the beginning of the year we said — and the team will tell you — if we didn't make it to the state championship game, we failed this year," said coach Glenn Rodriguez, whose team lost four of its first five, none of which Cox pitched. "We felt we had the team to do it."

On Wednesday, Cox struck out the first three batters she faced, then she got all the run support she would need moments later when Nicole Kennedy scored on Nina Caisse's one-out single.

The next inning, Victoria Cooper led off with a double and scored two batters later, when Cathy Flocken's fly ball sailed over the head of shallow-playing leftfielder Lindsey Fussell for another double.

"I think we knew once we got two runs up, I thought we felt like, 'Okay, we're in control of this ball game now,' " Rodriguez said.

Insurance was provided in the third inning, when Cooper's fly ball was misplayed by centerfielder Caitlin McCready, scoring Caisse and Elizabeth Nugent, both of whom had walked earlier.

From there, Cox struck out six more batters and watched Caisse execute three putouts and two assists at shortstop.

"I knew coming in that our team was going to step up and play their hardest," Cox said. "I knew we could beat them."

Joey Knight can be reached at jknight@sptimes.com.

fast facts

State final four

National Training Center, Clermont

Admission: $8. Parking: $5

Wednesday's semifinals

Class 5A: East Bay 4, Palm Beach Gardens Dwyer 0; Niceville 1, East Lake 0

Class 2A: Pine Castle Christian 5, Florida Christian 4; Lafayette 6, Lakeland Christian 3

Today's finals

Class 2A: Pine Castle Christian vs. Lafayette, 4 p.m.

Class 5A: East Bay vs. Niceville, 7 p.m.

On the Web

Check out our photo galleries from Wednesday's Class 5A semifinals at tampabay.com/hometeam.

State softball: East Bay advances to Class 5A final 05/12/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, May 12, 2010 10:29pm]

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