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Strawberry Crest softball looks for atonement in district tournament

Strawberry Crest catcher Mia Fung and infielder Megan Reed already have their game faces on for next week’s Class 6A, District 11 tournament. The team hopes to atone for its 2012 semifinal loss against Leto and reach the postseason this year.

Darek Sharp | Special to the Times

Strawberry Crest catcher Mia Fung and infielder Megan Reed already have their game faces on for next week’s Class 6A, District 11 tournament. The team hopes to atone for its 2012 semifinal loss against Leto and reach the postseason this year.

There's no need to remind anyone on the Strawberry Crest team. The Chargers are perfectly aware of how their season ended last year.

They entered the district tournament as the top seed, sporting gaudy offensive numbers and high expectations of an easy win over Leto that would send them to the postseason and a possible deep run into the playoffs.

After all, they had beaten the Falcons, 17-0, earlier in the season.

"We thought were just going to go out and win, no problem," said Mia Fung, a standout catcher. "We got ahead of ourselves. Then as the game went on and we kept getting outs, we started freaking out a little bit."

The stress level never subsided and Leto stunned Strawberry Crest, 1-0.

"I remember that game, right here," said Chargers head coach Mindy Miltner, pointing to the area of the pit of her stomach.

Turn the calendar ahead a year to next week and we have the Class 6A, District 11 tournament — otherwise known as the moment top-seeded Strawberry Crest has been waiting for.

Plant City and Durant are also top seeds in their respective district tourneys, all of which begin Monday. Each of the three teams get a bye into Tuesday's semifinals and wins there will guarantee a trip to the postseason.

And that part about needing no reminder? This year, it's looking like the Chargers could get Leto in the semifinals — a team they beat 13-0 and 10-0 this season.

"Hey, isn't that the exact same bracket as last year?" asked shortstop Megan Reed on Tuesday. She is correct: seeds 1-6 in the same order, star with a Chargers team that has been rolling along even more vigorously.

In its District 6A-11 games, Strawberry Crest outscored its opponents by a 119-1 total. Basically, a 12-0 shutout every time out.

So how will this time around be different? Assuming Leto defeats Armwood in Monday's first round, this year's group isn't going to be surprised by the Falcons and likely starter Jaclyn Amato, the pitcher who stymied them in last year's semifinal.

Plus, the 2013 Chargers may be even better than last year's team, heading into tonight's regular-season finale at Newsome with a 20-2 record.

"We're playing much more as a team this year, not just worried about ourselves. It's a big difference," said Reed, the team's RBI leader, who recently gave her verbal commitment to the University of Florida.

"We're more focused as a team, but not cocky. Confident," said Fung, who leads a handful of Strawberry Crest players hitting .500 or higher.

The Chargers will play the Leto-Armwood winner in a Tuesday semifinal at 5 p.m. Host Sickles and Jefferson are the likely matchup in the other semi and the championship game is Thursday.

Sammy Tyler is expected to get the ball on the mound.

Durant is looking for a repeat run to the 8A state title, but getting out of district is no guarantee, as Cougars head coach Matt Carter has repeatedly said. Durant has the benefit of hosting the 8A-7 event and will play its semifinal Tuesday night.

Only Durant and Bloomingdale finished with winning district marks and yet all six of the teams have overall records above .500.

Plant City pulled off a perfect 10-0 district record in 7A, with Strawberry Crest-like numbers (121-6 scoring margin). The Raiders handed Riverview its lone district defeat, recently a 5-1 road final that locked up the top seed.

Noelle Dietrich threw a four-hitter in that one and has logged the majority of innings for the Raiders, who were 15-5 entering Thursday's game with Durant. Freshman Becca Sorensen has had a phenomenal season at the plate to lead a solid offense.

The Raiders get the Brandon-Hillsborough winner Tuesday at 5 p.m. Riverview is the second seed and will likely square off with host and No. 3 seed East Bay in the other semi. First-round games are Monday with the finals set for 7 p.m. Thursday.

Darek Sharp can be reached at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

Strawberry Crest softball looks for atonement in district tournament 04/11/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, April 10, 2013 4:52pm]

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