Sophomore Samantha Cronk and junior April Slate have most of the tools coaches want in players.
The Land O'Lakes veterans pitch, hit for average, run fast, are solid outfielders. And with an up and coming pitcher on the team, Slate and Cronk can focus on providing the hits to put the Gators over the top.
Land O'Lakes entered last season without an ace, having relied on Ashley Patton for three seasons. Cronk and Slate combined for nine of the team's 15 wins, but don't look for that trend to continue. They were simply natural athletes to whom coach Jerry English turned in a pinch.
Freshman hurler Rhiannon Bogaert should get most of the innings, but Slate, who pitched in Tuesday's 8-4 loss to Tarpon Springs, and Cronk are around if needed.
"It doesn't really matter; wherever they need me," Cronk said. "But I did like playing center more than pitching."
Cronk (7-1 last season) prefers second base, the position she plays on the Under-18 Clearwater Bombers travel team.
"A lot of my coaches say I'm a natural outfielder, but I just prefer infield," Cronk said.
Senior transfer Christine Van Cleve, a switch-hitting travel player, will be in center, so English is giving Cronk her preference.
Slate, a rightfielder, will miss her longtime friend in the outfield.
"Last year we played outfield together, and we did really good communicating," Slate said.
Their hitting wasn't bad, either.
Slate batted .453 with 20 RBIs and 20 runs. Cronk hit .378 with 21 RBIs and 24 runs. Throw in Andy Babij, a senior first baseman who hit .423 with 11 RBIs, and Michelle Hausman (.351), and the Gators have a potent offense even without Van Cleve in the mix.
The only thing they lacked last season was power. Cronk and Slate combined for five doubles and nine triples, but those were based on speed on the basepaths. Neither homered, about the only thing they didn't do.
Cronk, a right-handed batter, aims to drive in more runs this season by utilizing the entire field.
"Last year I couldn't hit to the right side," she said. "If we had someone at second or third I couldn't really hit it that way. I'd pull it. I want to get more RBIs and hit it on the right side more."
Cronk and Slate have shared success with the Gators, with the Land O'Lakes Senior Softball All-Stars that played in the 2001 sectionals and with the Tampa Rockets, a travel team that competed in the 2001 International Fast-Pitch World Series.
And they played on the Gators basketball team that advanced to the region semifinals.
"It's cool that we can play all these sports together," Cronk said.
While the two share plenty of happy memories on the ballfield as well as a basketball court, one they would like to forget is last season's game against Hernando. Slate chipped a tooth and suffered a slight concussion while stealing second base, but Hernando shortstop Kim Olmstead got the worst of it with a broken leg.
Slate's memory of that incident is vague, but one thing she remembered not to change was her aggressive approach to the game.
"I don't really remember anything, but I was out the next week stealing," said Slate, who missed two games after the collision.
Slate led the Gators with 17 steals; Cronk was second with 13.
Whether it was meant as a challenge to her teammate or not, Slate said, "I want to get more steals."