VERO BEACH — Flu-like symptoms kept Bill Hoopes up Tuesday night. So the first-year Admiral Farragut coach was hoping for a quick game against the same team the Blue Jackets dominated in the state semifinals a year ago.
Admiral Faragut (20-10) did not finish early, but they got the result that mattered. In redundantly spectacular fashion, the Blue Jackets cruised to a 15-5 victory over Fort Pierce John Carroll in the Class 3A title game.
Admiral Farragut joined Palm Harbor University (2004-05), Canterbury (2013-14) and Academy at the Lakes (2018-19) as the only bay area programs to win two straight softball titles.
“This means the world to me,” said starting pitcher Bre Benefield, who allowed eight hits and struck out 12. “The favorite part of my life in my high school career is to sit here and make it all the way back to states again — and win.”
The defending champion Blue Jackets had all the makings to win again. The team, made up primarily of underclassmen a year ago, returned its entire starting lineup.
The only difference was the coach.
Hoopes took over for Linda Derk, who started the program from scratch. Derk is now a hitting instructor for Great Britain’s national team.
Hoopes knew there would be all kinds of comparisons to his predecessor. He inherited a team considered to be the best in school history. There were questions about how the team would operate without Derk.
The answer: just as well.
Under Hoopes, Admiral Farragut overcame some early-season struggles and entered the title game on a six-game win streak, outscoring foes by a combined 54-14.
The coach was confident his team could cruise again. After all, the Blue Jackets beat John Carroll 8-1 in last year’s semifinal.
A month ago, the Rams had a losing record. They got hot at the right time, winning six straight to advance to Wednesday’s final. Trouble was, most games were slug fests. John Carroll (16-13) had a team ERA of 6.10.
Hoopes knew that. Admiral Farragut got its offense going early, scoring three runs in the first inning and two more in the second.
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The Blue Jackets kept applying pressure throughout the game by getting on base any way possible. Admiral Farragut had 10 hits but also drew seven walks and capitalized on four errors. Lexi Hernandez had three hits and four RBIs, and Alyssa Rano punctuated the outburst with a three-run homer in the sixth. In the bottom of the seventh inning, the Blue Jackets sealed the win on a putout by Katya Fe, a boarding student and one of two seniors on the team.
Rano’s blast was the team’s 12th homer of the year, setting a school record. Admiral Farragut won 20 games in a season for the first time and went 15-1 against 3A competition.
For Hoopes, there was no bantering about proving his skeptics wrong.
“One of the greatest terms Senior Chief James Donald taught me when I was a young first-class petty officer was to be humble,” Hoopes said. “Look at the talent on that team. There’s a lot of people that could have come in here and won a state championship. I’m a very humble person. I’m very appreciative of these parents for letting me do my job and not trying be overbearing and accept the changes that I made. …
“I’m more thankful of the opportunity than saying, ‘How you like me now.’”
As the Admiral Farragut players headed to the outfield for team pictures, they doused Hoopes with a bucket of water. Not the best thing in the world for someone still sick but …
“I feel like sunshine right now,” he said.
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