In two out of its first three seasons, the Sickles High softball team made it to the state final four.
On the softball diamond, the Sickles High Gryphons have established a reputation as one of the best teams in Florida. The team has made it to the state championship in two of its three seasons.
Now it's getting recognition for achievement off the field, too. The girls have the highest average grades of any public high school softball team in Hillsborough County: 3.534.
"We take the paperwork all teams must submit before district play and total the GPAs of each individual player," Hillsborough County Athletic Director Vernon Korhn said.
"Then we get an average for the team and recognize the academic achievements of the top three averages in each sport during the year."
Sickles started slow this season and had to battle back in the end to earn its berth in the state championships.
After upsetting Tallahassee Leon 3-0 (the Lions were ranked in the top four in the state in Class 6A for most of the season), Sickles faced Miami Palmetto.
Stumbling through a rare rash of errors in the third inning, the Gryphons gave up six runs to put themselves into a deep hole. They almost climbed out, but lost 6-5 in the finals.
To get to there, the Gryphons played some almost-magic games.
First there was traditionally strong Bloomingdale. The Bulls beat Sickles in the first regular season game and with two games remaining, the Gryphons had to beat both Bloomingdale and arch rival Gaither to earn the top district seeding, first-game bye and an automatic berth in the regional games.
They beat Bloomingdale 4-2 to end the season and Gaither 2-0 to start the playoffs and force a rematch with the Bulls. The Gryphons won that one 4-3 to continue in the regionals in the winners bracket.
After knocking off Venice 9-5 and Orlando Colonial 5-3, Sickles had to face Bloomingdale a fourth time for a ticket to final four.
"That was a big game for our girls," assistant coach Dennis Reddick said. "To beat a team like Bloomingdale three out of four games is almost impossible. But they won 2-1."
Hitting was not the Gryphons' strong suit this season. Aside from the third-inning collapse in the state final, defense prevailed.
No one hit above .400.
Tiffany Clark ended the season at .378 for the team's highest batting average. She also scored 22 runs, hit three doubles and one triple, plus recorded 15 RBI.
Behind her, Tiffany Steward hit .367, scored 23 runs and recorded 20 RBI. She also hit two homeruns, six doubles and three triples.
Jessica Silver was next with a batting average of .363, 24 runs, 10 RBI, three doubles and three triples. Soraya Reddick hit .307, with 11 RBI, 30 runs scored, three doubles and a triple.
Laura Templeton hit .242 with a homerun, seven doubles, three triples, 16 RBI and 11 runs scored.
On the mound, junior right-hander Julie Henneke went 17-6 with an ERA of 0.47 and 167 strikeouts. She also hit .324, with four doubles, 11 RBI and 30 runs scored.
With most of the team returning next season, the Gryphons could improve on this season's 23-7 record.