CLEARWATER — Calvary Christian athletic director Darrell Don did not go through an exhaustive search to replace softball coach Sarah Coleman, whose baby was due during the season.
Instead, Don hired himself.
He agreed to take the job for at least two years to give the program stability.
Don’s expertise is baseball. He guided Northside Christian’s star-studded team, led by first-round pick Lastings Milledge, to the state semifinals in 2002 and went on to coach several other high draft picks at Orlando First Academy.
At first, the Warrior players were skeptical of how well their new coach could adapt to softball.
“We definitely had some doubts,” outfielder Hayley Eaton said.
Don soothed those concerns quickly. The Warriors just finished the regular season 21-3. They have clinched the top seed in the Class 4A, District 4 tournament and are favored to make the playoffs for just the fifth time in program history.
“I had a little experience helping out as an assistant at the end of last season,” Don said. “Even though I’m a baseball guy, I was able to assimilate to softball pretty easily. Other than maybe the speed or defending the slap hitter, the game is basically the same.”
Don also inherited a talented roster. Three juniors — Kaylin Cole (Florida Gulf Coast), Eaton (Georgia) and Charlotte Schultheis (UNC Wilmington) — have already committed. Senior Kelly Ulatowski signed with South Florida State.
The biggest mantras under Don: throw strikes, play defense and bash the softball.
Don stuck to his baseball roots on offense. No small ball. Calvary Christian had to show patience — and power — at the plate. His goal was 25 homers as a team this season.
The Warriors have 17 home runs so far, five more than last season.
As for pitching, Don wanted some help.
He got a big boost to the coaching staff with the addition of former Florida State standout Jessica Burroughs. In the offseason, Burroughs conducted a clinic with a Clearwater Bullets travel team coached by Schultheis’ father, Sean.
Sean convinced Burroughs to work with Calvary Christian’s pitching staff, which features Schutheis and Hannah Galloway.
“Jessica has been a big help,” Schultheis said. “I’ll be a third baseman in college. Pitching is not really my thing. I’m just doing it in high school. But she’s given me more confidence by working with me.”
Another reason for the impressive record is the team’s health. Eaton and Schultheis battled through injuries in previous seasons.
The turning point began in the preseason with a win over defending Class 3A state champion Admiral Farragut. It continued with a strong performance in the Lady ’Canes Spring Classic. The Warriors went 3-1 in that tournament, their lone loss coming against eventual champion East Lake. In that game, Calvary Christian twice rallied from two-run deficits before losing 8-7.
“That game showed us we can play with anybody,” Cole said.
For years, the softball team has played in the shadow of the school’s baseball counterparts. Calvary Christian won a state title in baseball two years ago and became nationally recognized after winning 60 straight games, a state-record streak that ended in the state final last season.
“Baseball is kind of a big deal around here,” Cole said. “Maybe we’ll get noticed some, too, after making some noise.”
The goals of making the playoffs and winning the school’s first postseason game are well within reach.
Now, the aim is for a bigger prize: a state title.
“We all feel confident we can get there,” Eaton said. “Coach has us believing we can do it. He’s been a big reason why we’ve been able to do so much this season.”
Class 4A-4 at Holy Names
Monday: No. 7 Clearwater Central Catholic vs. No. 3 Holy Names, 3; No. 4 Berkeley Prep vs. No. 5 Brooks DeBartolo, 5; No. 6 Tampa Prep vs. No. 2 Tampa Catholic, 7
Wednesday: No. 1 Calvary Christian vs. Berkeley-Brooks winner, 5; CCC-Holy Names winner vs. Tampa Prep-Tampa Catholic winner, 7
Friday: Final, 7
Contact Bob Putnam at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @BobbyHomeTeam.