Advertisement
  1. Sports

A little unfinished business at state for Land O'Lakes

Land O’Lakes’ Callie Turner held down a strong Springstead lineup, striking out 15 in a two-hit shutout last week.
Land O’Lakes’ Callie Turner held down a strong Springstead lineup, striking out 15 in a two-hit shutout last week.
Published May 17, 2017

LAND O'LAKES — What Land O'Lakes did last softball season was impressive, and to their credit, the Gators have practically repeated that effort.

The Gators are back in the state semifinals and looking for a longer stay — and, if all goes to their plan, the school's first state title in the sport. Land O'Lakes faces North Fort Myers in the 6A semis Friday at 12:20.

Last season the Gators were 27-2-1, then ran into American Heritage in the semis, losing 5-0. This year's record is 27-3.

"It's been almost an exact duplicate," said coach Mitch Wilkins. "But we hope the experience of being there once helps. And we don't have the stigma in our minds of playing a team that has been the ruin of Land O'Lakes High School for a couple of different sports."

He refers to American Heritage, which has dropped the Gators soccer team out of a state final and semifinal in recent years.

"We're having a lot of support from the soccer team," said junior Tia Williams, the combination of speed and power who bats .422 and has driven in 22. "Last year we beat ourselves. I feel like we had that game. If we were to beat North Fort Myers and play American Heritage … I would really want that game."

No one is looking past the Red Knights, who have the same record as the Gators. But it's hard not to notice the team in the other semifinal.

Heritage won last year's final by the mercy rule, and the Patriots have seven state softball titles to their credit.

"If we do win, that's the team we want to see in the final," said Wilkins, whose club's path back to Vero Beach has been eerily similar to last year, when the Gators won their first region final since 1995.

Led by a senior standout pitcher Shannon Saile and solid hitting, last year's Gators rolled to a first-round playoff victory, won a hard-fought fourth meeting with a district rival (River Ridge), then got by Springstead 1-0.

This May's progression: easy first-round win, hard-fought 4-2 defeat of district foe Wesley Chapel and, yes, 2-0 over Springstead.

Saile has moved on and will be pitching for Florida International in the NCAA tournament. The Golden Panthers rode Saile's arm to an at-large berth and will hope to knock off top-ranked Florida in the Gainesville regional.

"I was texting with Shannon, good luck, congrats but sorry for the bracket you're in. She said, 'we got this!' The confidence is still there. And that's something we get out of Callie as well," Wilkins said.

As in Callie Turner, who as a sophomore has demonstrated no dropoff in the circle. Saile truck out 269 as a senior. Turner's not quite as prolific, but her "only" 232 — in 118 innings — will do.

"Callie, wow," Wilkins said. "She's probably at the level where Shannon was her senior year. She's been that good."

Turner held down a strong Springstead lineup, striking out 15 in a two-hit shutout last week, the latest in quite a long stretch of strong outings for the lefty.

Get real-time alerts about your favorite teams

Get real-time alerts about your favorite teams

Subscribe to our free Breaking Sports News newsletter

We’ll send you major developments in the local, state and national sports world as they happen.

You’re all signed up!

Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.

Explore all your options

In fact, the University of Tennessee commit hasn't allowed an earned run since the last day of February. That was the third game of the season, a 2-0 loss to River Ridge. Turner's earned-run average is a tiny 0.18.

While she cites her curveball as the "go-to" in her repertoire, the Gators generally change her approach depending on the strengths of the opponent.

"I feel like it changes every game," Turner said. "Some days the curve won't be working so I'll go more with my screwball and riseball."

She was working Monday — on a day that Wilkins gave the team off. Clearly Turner wants to be ready for her first time in the real spotlight.

But the hitters want to do their part as well, after being shut out in last year's semi.

"I know we definitely had a lot of nerves," senior Jessie McCallister said. "I'm pretty sure there will be some this year but not nearly. We had hoped to get in (last season) but really, deep down, we knew we wanted to go to state again."

The two biggest missing bats are departed senior Tayler Holt, a lifetime .370 hitter (.534 as a junior) and catching standout now at Rollins College, and Kendall Tipton (.350 career, 60 RBIs). Ashley Smith has picked up the RBI load (30) while hitting .408. Brianna Lindner has been "dinged up" all season, Wilkins said, explaining why Linder's home run total has dropped from six to two. As a team the Gators are 15 points higher (.340) but the home run total has fallen off from 15 to eight.

Shelby Westbrook has been coming around the bases aplenty, leading the team in runs (36) and hits (38, good for a .432 average).

If Westbrook and mates can keep it going, they'll come with some well-earned hardware.

"It's just as exciting as it was last year," Wilkins said. "You know, last year was new for the girls, new for me as well. We're ready to take it a step beyond that and finish it this year."

By Darek Sharp

Times Correspondent

LAND O'LAKES — What Land O'Lakes did last softball season was impressive, and to their credit, the Gators have practically repeated that effort.

The Gators are back in the state semifinals and looking for a longer stay — and, if all goes to their plan, the school's first state title in the sport. Land O'Lakes faces North Fort Myers in the 6A semis Friday at 12:20.

Last season the Gators were 27-2-1, then ran into American Heritage in the semis, losing 5-0. This year's record is 27-3.

"It's been almost an exact duplicate," said coach Mitch Wilkins. "But we hope the experience of being there once helps. And we don't have the stigma in our minds of playing a team that has been the ruin of Land O'Lakes High School for a couple of different sports."

He refers to American Heritage, which has dropped the Gators soccer team out of a state final and semifinal in recent years.

"We're having a lot of support from the soccer team," said junior Tia Williams, the combination of speed and power who bats .422 and has driven in 22. "Last year we beat ourselves. I feel like we had that game. If we were to beat North Fort Myers and play American Heritage … I would really want that game."

No one is looking past the Red Knights, who have the same record as the Gators. But it's hard not to notice the team in the other semifinal.

Heritage won last year's final by the mercy rule, and the Patriots have seven state softball titles to their credit.

"If we do win, that's the team we want to see in the final," said Wilkins, whose club's path back to Vero Beach has been eerily similar to last year, when the Gators won their first region final since 1995.

Led by a senior standout pitcher Shannon Saile and solid hitting, last year's Gators rolled to a first-round playoff victory, won a hard-fought fourth meeting with a district rival (River Ridge), then got by Springstead 1-0.

This May's progression: easy first-round win, hard-fought 4-2 defeat of district foe Wesley Chapel and, yes, 2-0 over Springstead.

Saile has moved on and will be pitching for Florida International in the NCAA tournament. The Golden Panthers rode Saile's arm to an at-large berth and will hope to knock off top-ranked Florida in the Gainesville regional.

"I was texting with Shannon, good luck, congrats but sorry for the bracket you're in. She said, 'we got this!' The confidence is still there. And that's something we get out of Callie as well," Wilkins said.

As in Callie Turner, who as a sophomore has demonstrated no dropoff in the circle. Saile truck out 269 as a senior. Turner's not quite as prolific, but her "only" 232 — in 118 innings — will do.

"Callie, wow," Wilkins said. "She's probably at the level where Shannon was her senior year. She's been that good."

Turner held down a strong Springstead lineup, striking out 15 in a two-hit shutout last week, the latest in quite a long stretch of strong outings for the lefty.

In fact, the University of Tennessee commit hasn't allowed an earned run since the last day of February. That was the third game of the season, a 2-0 loss to River Ridge. Turner's earned-run average is a tiny 0.18.

While she cites her curveball as the "go-to" in her repertoire, the Gators generally change her approach depending on the strengths of the opponent.

"I feel like it changes every game," Turner said. "Some days the curve won't be working so I'll go more with my screwball and riseball."

She was working Monday — on a day that Wilkins gave the team off. Clearly Turner wants to be ready for her first time in the real spotlight.

But the hitters want to do their part as well, after being shut out in last year's semi.

"I know we definitely had a lot of nerves," senior Jessie McCallister said. "I'm pretty sure there will be some this year but not nearly. We had hoped to get in (last season) but really, deep down, we knew we wanted to go to state again."

The two biggest missing bats are departed senior Tayler Holt, a lifetime .370 hitter (.534 as a junior) and catching standout now at Rollins College, and Kendall Tipton (.350 career, 60 RBIs). Ashley Smith has picked up the RBI load (30) while hitting .408. Brianna Lindner has been "dinged up" all season, Wilkins said, explaining why Linder's home run total has dropped from six to two. As a team the Gators are 15 points higher (.340) but the home run total has fallen off from 15 to eight.

Shelby Westbrook has been coming around the bases aplenty, leading the team in runs (36) and hits (38, good for a .432 average).

If Westbrook and mates can keep it going, they'll come with some well-earned hardware.

"It's just as exciting as it was last year," Wilkins said. "You know, last year was new for the girls, new for me as well. We're ready to take it a step beyond that and finish it this year."

Advertisement

This site no longer supports your current browser. Please use a modern and up-to-date browser version for the best experience.

Chrome Firefox Safari Edge