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Phone it in? Not this East Lake softball team

An “old school” prop sends the message home for the Eagles, who have won 19 straight.
East Lake junior Madio Stauffer raps a single during semifinal action of the Lady 'Canes Invitational, which the Eagles went on to win Saturday evening. (SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times)
East Lake junior Madio Stauffer raps a single during semifinal action of the Lady 'Canes Invitational, which the Eagles went on to win Saturday evening. (SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times)
Published Apr. 17, 2019
Updated Apr. 17, 2019

East Lake High softball coach Kristie Delk knew it would be difficult to top last season’s performance.

After all, the Eagles excelled at a championship level on and off the field. They won a district title for the second straight season and finished tops in the state for academic achievement among softball teams for having the highest collective grade-point average.

“Plus, I just absolutely loved the kids on our team last season,” Delk said. “It was a season of why coaches coach.”

The only thing that could exceed those superlatives would be winning the school’s first state title.

The Eagles have nearly a month to go before that could happen. But they do have a record befitting a potential champion.

East Lake not only has the best record (20-1) in the area, but has won 19 straight games. Included in that total are four victories at the always-tough Lady ’Canes Spring Classic that Palm Harbor University holds each season. The Eagles beat the hosts in the championship game.

“These kids are equally great and are finding ways to compete and win,” Delk said.

They also are talented. Tori Brennan, a junior, was the Tampa Bay Times’ Pinellas County Pitcher of the Year last season. Katie Bright, a sophomore who has already committed to defending national champion Florida State, transferred from Mitchell in the offseason. Senior Caroline Jacquay is a speedster who can make all kinds of acrobatic plays in the outfield.

Still, despite all those pluses, Delk understands success can be fleeting. There’s the next game to worry about, another opposing pitcher to dissect. And, of course, there is dreaded complacency to battle before it takes hold.

Delk used an old-school prop to make sure her team did not have a sense of security. At the beginning of the season, she bought a landline phone, complete with cords, and placed it in the dugout.

The message?

RELATED: East Lake remains on top in the HomeTeam 15 softball rankings

“To remind us that we can’t ‘phone’ it in because any day anyone can beat you,” Delk said.

Since winning the Lady ’Canes tournament, the Eagles have played just two teams with a winning record. East Lake has not exactly played down to the competition, winning their last six games by four or more runs, including five that ended early because of the mercy rule (ahead by 10 or more runs).

While this impressive win streak is nice, Delk knows the competition will get considerably tougher once the postseason begins. Lakewood Ranch, which could end up being the No. 1-ranked team in the nation this week, stands in the way. Lakewood Ranch beat the Eagles in the second round of the playoffs each of the past two seasons.

“I sometimes forget we are coaching high school athletes and how hard it is to ask them to keep that intensity level up for all teams regardless of strength,” Delk said. “I worry that the fun, love of the game, gets lost if I’m constantly on them, but it’s a balance of you do that (mistake) against a playoff opponent, then we lose.

“Unfortunately I struggle to let up on them but our senior leaders understand why we have to keep playing error-free ball and relay that to the underclassmen who wonder why we aren’t ecstatic when we win by 10 runs, but it’s because we give up runs on errors or lazy plays.”

Before Delk could truly get her point across about maintaining intensity in every game, she had to explain how the phone in the dugout actually functioned.

Delk gave lessons on call waiting and how to untangle yourself from the cord when walking and talking.

“My grandparents have one attached to their wall,” senior McKenna Graham said. “Have I ever used one? Never.”

It took a while but East Lake now gets it.

“We just use (the phone) as a reminder that we never stop doing our jobs on the field,” Graham said. “Sometimes we have a little fun with it, too, by giving our teammates fake phone calls.”


  1. Carrollwood Day sophomore Milahnie Perry controls the tempo in a 74-36 victory over Tampa Prep in a Class 3A region quarterfinal. [SCOTT PURKS  |  Special to the Times]
  2. BJ Graham and Jesuit are already off to a strong start, as was expected of the nation's top high school program. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
  3. Newsome Wolves catcher Lydia Castro is dynamic behind the plate and with a bat in her hand. She is also committed to USF. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Times]
  4. Elli Black, 11, crosses the finish line in first place in the women's division at the Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic 8K. [OCTAVIO JONES  |  Times]
  5. There were many standout players for Tampa Catholic on Saturday, including goalkeeper Charlie Gembarowski, who set school records in shutouts (16) and wins (22) with the state semifinal victory. [JOSEPH WEISER  |  Icon SMI via ZUMA Press]
  6. Jesuit, ranked No. 6 in the state and 15th nationally by MaxPreps, will play for their seventh school title next Saturday in DeLand against Pembroke Pines Charter. [JOSEPH WEISER  |  Icon SMI via ZUMA Press]
  7. Shorecrest coach Jason Montoya, seen here in a previous playoff match, was happy with how his team played in Saturday's state semifinal. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Times]
  8. Elaine Jeffers, left, and mom Jennifer are all smiles in their pirate and parrot costumes after finishing the 15K and 5K races Saturday morning. Today, both Elaine, 33, and Jennifer, 60, will run their 61st half-marathon. [SCOTT PURKS  |  Special to the Times]
  9. Joe Conrad, at the mere age of 90 in the orange hat, crosses the Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic 5K finish line with 30 of his relatives: kids, grandkids and so on. Conrad, who has set several age-group records at races the past few decades, finished in 59 minutes, 28 seconds, but he did, of course, benefit from all the pacers around him. [SCOTT PURKS  |  Special to the Times]
  10. Cambridge Christian runner Reed Legg finishes first (15:29) during Saturday's Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic 5K. [LUIS SANTANA  |  Tampa Bay Times]
  11. Tampa Bay Tech, still missing star sophomore Janiah Barker, falters in the region final Friday, but if healthy should make another deep playoff run next season. [DIRK SHADD  |  Tampa Bay Times]
  12. After its 3-1 victory over Westminster Academy of Fort Lauderdale on Friday, the Shorecrest girls soccer team  will be playing in the program's first state final next week in Deland. [CHUCK FRYE  |  Special to the Times]