News-Sun file photo by DAN HOEHNE Lexi Adams had a strong freshman season for the Lady Panthers, pitching 154 innings and posting a 13-9 record and 2.18 ERA.
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published: Wednesday, May 08, 2013
One last roar for Lady Panthers
By DAN HOEHNE
The roller-coaster ride that was the season for South Florida State College softball came to an end Saturday afternoon with a 7-2 loss to the Hillsborough Hawks in the FCSAA Gulf District Tournament - but not before one more high point had been reached.
The tumultuous season had seen the Lady Panther roster go from 20 athletes to 11 by seasons end, but the remaining girls battled through.
"We're so proud of the girls," first-year assistant coach Heather Barnes said of her and head coach Carlos Falla. "They accomplished a lot. It was a constant change all season long, and we had a lot of people step up."
Step up, indeed, as they scrapped their way to a 24-26 record during the regular season and 7-9 in Suncoast Conference play, winding up in a tie for third in conference and qualifying for the state tournament.
Though, of course, after making the long trip to Pensacola for the postseason showcase, they found themselves matched up Friday against the tournaments top seed, Gulf Coast State.
The Lady Commodores sported a 43-13 overall record, 12-4 in Panhandle Conference play, and aside from being the number one rated team in the state, were slated as the second best team in the country.
But true to form, just when it seemed a no-win situation for South Florida, the depleted squad shone through.
Starting pitcher Lexi Adams was on top of her game and held the formidable foes in check, allowing just one run to cross the plate.
And when freshman first-baseman Caitlyn Lytle of Lithia came through with a two-run single, the Lady Panthers had pulled an upset for the ages.
"Carlos and I were both really proud of the girls," Barnes said. "They all pulled together and just played an amazing game."
But then it was back to a district opponent for Friday's late game, a Polk State Eagles team that the Panthers had gone 1-3 against during the regular season.
And they wouldn't have much luck in a 5-1 loss to put them at 1-1 and one loss away from being eliminated, which Hillsborough would see to the next day.
"Lexi pitched great against both Polk and Hillsborough, our defense just got away from us," Barnes said. "Offensively, we were okay. We hit, but just couldn't put them all together."
And so the season came to a quiet end, but not before the Lady Panthers had one more big roar.
South Florida will say good-bye to six sophomores, all of whom played key roles in the teams' ascent this season.
Such as center fielder Amanda Byers and her team-high 37 runs scored and 21 stolen bases to go with a .400 on base percentage and two home runs.
And shortstop Lexi Belardi with her slick fielding and sharp eye at the plate which lead to a team-high 25 walks to give her a .407 on base percentage.
Also leaving are the solid contributions and leadership from Taylor Upchurch, Kayla Dennison, Courtney Diamond and Julia Deyoe.
But back will be a solid core, including Adams and Lytle, who can only benefit from the experience of the run to the postseason and their biggest win of the year.
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