VERO BEACH — The underclassmen on the Academy at the Lakes softball team headed back to their hotel after Tuesday’s state semifinal to take an English exam. Another exam was pushed back to Friday.
The school’s administrators made those moves to clear the schedule for Wednesday’s Class 2A state championship game. That way, the team would have plenty of time to celebrate a title that already seemed a foregone conclusion.
For the past two years, the Wildcats have dominated 2A competition. Even their most impressive accomplishments have taken on an air of inevitability.
Of course, Academy at the Lakes (19-7) is the defending state champion. Of course, the Wildcats are the overwhelming favorite to win a state title.
Should anyone be surprised? Academy at the Lakes is a softball juggernaut, a program so clearly superior at its level of competition that few opponents can muster a competitive game much less the threat of victory.
On Wednesday, the Wildcats were seeking more than another championship. They were trying to cement their legacy as one of the greatest softball dynasties in the Tampa Bay area.
Academy at the Lakes accomplished that, beating Mount Dora Christian Academy 11-0 in six innings. It was the Wildcats’ 10th run-rule win of the season.
Also, Academy at the Lakes became the first Pasco County program to ever win consecutive state titles and joined Palm Harbor University (2004-05) and Canterbury (2013-14) as the area’s only back-to-back champs.
In 2A, the Wildcats have been a runaway train, going 22-1 against teams in that classification and outscoring them by a combined 231-13 during that span.
Much of that domination has to do with the talent on the roster, starting with ace Lexi Kilfoyl.
The Alabama signee led Academy at the Lakes to a state title last year. She dealt with an injury for the first time in her career this season, missing more than a month in the circle with a strained muscle in her right shoulder. Around the same time, shortstop Brooke Blankenship, a Florida State signee, went down with a season-ending elbow injury.
The Wildcats took their lumps. Of their seven losses, six came without Kilfoyl as the starting pitcher, including one to 2A rival Canterbury.
But AATL had others step up. Devyne Davis, a USF commit, pitched admirably while Kilfoyl was out.
“I think the real thing with this win and this season is how many of our kids stepped up and made a difference in our program,” coach Diane Stephenson said. “Losing Brooke. Missing Lexi. Those are big blows. Jessica Mott steps up. Devyne Davis steps up. We really became a team.”
Mount Dora Christian (26-5) had been on the verge of winning a state title, losing in the state semifinals two of the previous three seasons. The Bulldogs believed they could not only stay competitive but win, especially after getting past the semifinal hurdle with a 14-0 win over Belle Glade Glades Day on Tuesday.
Academy at the Lakes, though, took control from the start. Kilfoyl led off with a solo homer, her 12th of the season, for a 1-0 lead. Mott also had a big hit, a triple to score Hannah Church.
The hits — and the runs — kept coming. The Wildcats scored three in the first inning, added two each in the second and fourth innings, and finished it off with another four runs in the sixth.
They also had 14 hits, two each from Davis, Kilfoyl and Mott. Hannah Church had the biggest performance at the plate, going 4-for-4 with two doubles and three RBIs.
“I’ve been struggling a little bit at the plate,” Church said. “The (opposing) fans helped me. They were heckling me and all I wanted to do was hit the ball. I just wanted to help my team win and help Lexi have a final say in her legacy.”
The offensive outburst was more than enough for Kilfoyl. She threw another shutout, allowing no hits and finishing her career with a scoreless streak of 37 ⅔ innings.
“It’s crazy that’s all come to an end after six years,” Kilfoyl said. “And it’s great that it ended with another championship. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.”
The Wildcats did more than take exams Tuesday. They met the Chinese national team after their semifinal and had dinner on the beach.
On Wednesday, it was time to celebrate a championship that was anticipated since the beginning of the season. In fact, after the medals were awarded and the pictures were taken, Stephenson reached into a duffle bag to hand each of the players T-shirts printed in advance that proclaimed Academy at the Lakes as the 2019 champion.
“It’s a special group,” Stephenson said. “They earned it.”
State softball semifinals
Jackie Robinson Training Complex, Vero Beach
Admission: $9 advance, $12 day of; parking $10.
Class 5A: Hernando vs. Coral Springs Charter, 9:50 a.m. Thursday
Class 9A: Newsome vs. Coral Gables, 7:50 p.m. Thursday