Twelve Hillsborough County softball teams survived district tournament play and will continue quests for state titles. Most have great experience, including defending state champions Tampa Catholic in Class 3A and Seminole Presbyterian in Class A.
The first-year Sickles Gryphons are the exception. The Gryphons (17-6), who travel to Ocala Forest for tonight's Class 5A, South II Region quarterfinal, are one of the county's surprise teams.
Sickles, which finished second at the Western Conference tournament, made its mark with a team of mostly freshmen and sophomores. Even though still a junior, shortstop Leah Hussey is the senior member of the Sickles side. She played for Gaither last year and is one of two Gryphons with varsity experience.
Hussey is batting .397, has four triples, and is second in RBI for the team with 23.
"Leah plays with a lot of maturity on the bases, on defense or at the plate," Gryphons coach Tammy Overcash said. "We don't have a team captain this year, but she is definitely a leader on the field."
Sophomore rightfielder Soraya Reddick is the second player with varsity experience. She was a freshman member of the Class A state championship team from Seminole Presbyterian last year. Reddick is a long-ball hitter, with five triples and two doubles this season.
Freshman utility player Jessica Silver is the most consistent hitter for Sickles and has the top batting average in the county with .528. She has one home run, three triples, three doubles and has driven in 14 runs. She also is one of the fastest runners on the team.
"Our youngsters are well-balanced in the field, at the plate or running the bases," Overcash said. "Obviously they didn't get their experience in a few months at Sickles, being so young. They have been well-coached in the Citrus Park leagues, winter ball and on travel ball teams for several years. They play smart and have a lot of speed."
In addition to Silver, sophomores Natalie Zora and Angie Millar and freshman Julie Henneke were singled out by Overcash as speedsters.
Zora plays second base, bats .347 and leads the team in stolen bases with nine. Millar is not a regular starter, but bats .269 and has two stolen bases.
Henneke bats .333 and is a left-handed pitcher, one of three hurlers in the starting rotation. She has a 4-2 record with an ERA of 1.74 and 50 strikeouts in 44 innings.
Sophomore Andrea Springer is the Gryphons' ace. She is 8-4 with an ERA of 2.57 and 55 strikeouts in 70 innings. Katherine Decker rounds out the throwing trio with a record of 4-0, 0.67 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 21 innings. Decker also leads the team in RBI with 24 and has a .441 batting average.
April Flasher and Elisa Haintz, both sophomores, are two more stalwarts in the starting lineup. Flasher plays first and rarely makes an error. She bats .326 and has 10 RBI. Haintz is the field general behind the plate. She bats .310 and sets the pace for hard work in practice, said Overcash.