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Inverness girls make pitch for state title

Published Sep. 16, 2005

Mike Reynolds thinks he might have the answer, that his Inverness Senior Softball All Stars might have just what it takes to knock off the reigning champs.

Their performance in the District 15 and Section I tournaments added some credence to the claim. The girls, ages 13-15, were never challenged in six straight wins, four of which were shortened by the 10-run mercy rule.

Even more amazing is the way they have dominated so far. Inverness has scored 75 runs in the six games leading to Saturday's state tournament and 44 in the sectional tournament.

Their pitchers have been just as outstanding, allowing a mere seven runs total, two in the tournament.

So, as Reynolds admitted after a 12-0 win over Tri-County in the Section I finals, all the pieces seem to be in place. Yet one question persists:

Does this team have what it takes to knock off Greater Naples, the program that has set the standard for softball excellence?

"I hope so," said Reynolds' daughter, Gina Reynolds, one of three starting pitchers for Inverness. "I think we'll be right up there with them, but I really just want a chance to play them."

Reynolds and her teammates missed that chance last year when they were knocked off by Crystal River in the district tournament. Crystal River, like Inverness this year, advanced to the state tournament, yet like many before couldn't get by Naples.

"Crystal River beat us in districts last year, but only lost 4-0 to Naples at state," Mike Reynolds said. "And I think we're a lot better than what they had last year. We have everything. They had one thing."

That "one thing" would be Michelle Rowe, the sophomore pitcher who led Lecanto High School to the Class 4A state softball title this spring. Yet even Rowe wasn't enough against the 10-time national champs, a team that has dominated the sport like no other for 17 years.

For many in Naples, Fla., girls softball is everything. It dominates the lives of those who play it and the pages of the local sports section when it's in season. Winners of the last seven national titles, the Greater Naples program is a source of pride for residents, as is Naples High School, which won its ninth title in 10 seasons in May.

Granted, Naples still has to win the Section IV tournament in Pinellas Park to qualify for state. That, however, seems to be a foregone conclusion, as they've won the last seven. Inverness is scheduled to take on the Section IV champs at 2 p.m. Saturday in Mango, just outside Tampa.

Still, Mike Reynolds is confident and his team seems to have all the essentials, starting with pitching.

Gina Reynolds and Laura Helt didn't yield a run at the sectional tournament, combining for 11 scoreless innings. In addition, both have plenty of experience, having started for Citrus High School last season and for the last six seasons in Little League.

"They are a very good team. Their pitching is outstanding," Tri-County manager Earl Youngblood said. "We really haven't seen pitching like that until this tournament."

Inverness can also expect a marked improvement in pitching when it faces state competition. Besides Naples, which has three high school starters on its roster, whichever team advances from Section III, covering Tampa, Polk County and parts of Orlando, is likely to have strong arms as well.

"If you're going to win state, you have to have pitching depth," Mike Reynolds said. "Crystal River went with one pitcher (Rowe) last year and we're going with two. I know Naples will be tremendously strong, and so will whatever team comes out of the Tampa area."

Inverness will bring an equally potent lineup, a group that produced a 23-run effort against Deltona.

Simply put, pitchers get no rest from Inverness, its lineup stacked with girls that hit with power and consistency. Edie Poe, known more for her speed, led off the section tournament with a towering home run against Deltona and finished with a team-high six RBI through the three-game event.

Gina Reynolds and Helt, the most fearsome of Inverness' bats, combined for 10 RBIs, while Kim Richards, their Citrus High teammate, plated five runs. Then there is Colleen Leddy, who drove in four runs in limited action, including a three-run double against Deltona.

"I thought this would be our best shot," said Gina Reynolds, one of eight girls playing in their last year of Little League competition. "We think we have a shot at winning it all this year. This is our last year, and it's very important to me."