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Slowly _ but surely _ Central improving

The story of the Central softball season this year is the same as in the past several years _ only with a lot of improvement.

Yes, the Bears still are losing a majority of their games, and they are not yet beating some of the top teams in the area. But they are at least competitive, and those teams have to work a little harder before leaving the field with a win.

"We've still only won one game this season," Central coach Vera Yoder-Bates said. "But you have to ask where we've come from the last couple of years and look at how we are playing now. Yes we are better."

Where they have come from the past couple of years is short, five-inning games that opponents have left early, courtesy of the 10-run rule. These days those same teams are winning but by close margins.

"We're only losing the games now by one run or two runs," Yoder-Bates said. "We feel like we're winning right now, but the losses are still there. We know this program has improved, but the wins don't show it."

Yoder-Bates points to close games with defending state champion Lecanto, Crystal River and Citrus to show the improvement of her young squad.

Against the Panthers, Central managed eight hits and Lecanto got nine, but the Bears couldn't score off those hits, losing 3-0.

When it played Crystal River, Central threatened to score twice in the first two innings, left the bases loaded in the third but couldn't push a run across the plate until late in the game before losing 3-1.

"We're getting on base. We just have to work harder to make sure we score people," Yoder-Bates said. "Everyone has to pick up a bat and use it. Right now it's just a matter of confidence. The girls know the other teams are tough, and it's kind of like an attitude thing, a state of mind."

HERNANDO LEOPARDS: The Leopards host the always-tough Key West Conchs on Thursday.

The doubleheader, scheduled for 4:30 and 6:30 at Tom Varn Park, is part of a series that includes Hernando traveling to Key West in late April.

Casey Ellis (5-3) and Audrey Friedland probably will pitchfor Hernando. Ellis, a junior, leads the team with 26 strikeouts and five walks in 44 innings. Ellis also leads the team with an on-base percentage of .462.

On offense, coach Ernie Chatman decided speed at the top of his order will better suit his squad and will use Brittany Bell, the team's leading hitter with a .385 average.

One thing the game will allow is for Chatman to meet with a former player of his. Key West coach Steve Vinson played outfield for Chatman at Hernando in 1982-83.

Hernando's game against Central, which was rained out Wednesday, was rescheduled for April 16 at the Bears softball complex.