TAMPA - An eight strikeout power pitching performance by senior Kelsey Sweatt capped off a dominant 8-0 region 1-8A championship win for the Oakleaf High Lady Knights softball team that has now …
TAMPA - An eight strikeout power pitching performance by senior Kelsey Sweatt capped off a dominant 8-0 region 1-8A championship win for the Oakleaf High Lady Knights softball team that has now rolled to three wins in region play via a 28-0 scoring differential; 10-0 region blowouts of Tallahassee Lincoln and Atlantic Coast and the 8-0 score against Wharton.
Oakleaf will travel to Dodgertown in Vero Beach for the Class 8A semifinal game against perennial powerhouse St. Thomas Aquinas on May 19. St Thomas Aquinas is a four-time state champion. The championship game is set for May 20.
“We have faced some of the best teams in the state, and the nation, so I believe we are battle tested,” said Oakleaf High coach Christina Thompson, who won a team title as a player for Clay High School in 2001 under coach Matt Lewis. “We don’t let our opponent determine our level of competitiveness. We focus on our game, winning every inning, and leaving it all out on the field.”
St. Thomas Aquinas won 2-1 over 13-8A runnerup Coral Glades in their region opener, then beat Spanish River, the 13-8A district champion, 11-1 in the 4-8A semifinal before holding off 15-8A champion Cooper City 4-3 in the region 4-8A championship. St. Thomas Aquinas will be in their fifth straight Final Four.
While Oakleaf (29-2) has one trip to the Final Four in 2015, St. Thomas Aquinas (14-9) has four state titles and a long tenure as a softball powerhouse with region playoff berths stretching back to 1994 with titles in 2003 (4A), 2004 (4A), 2013 (7A) and 2014 (7A).
Last year, St. Thomas lost 2-0 to eventual Class 7A runnerup Countryside. Oakleaf lost to Strawberry Crest in the 1-8A region final.
In the second state semifinal, district 6-8A champion Plant City High (22-2, region semifinalist 2016) will play 12-8A runnerup Wellington High (21-6, region semifinalist 2016).
After a flyball to Katie Kistler as the leadoff batter in the first inning, Oakleaf’s batting lineup unloaded on Wharton’s defense with power and speed with a walk to Alex Acevedo and singles from Rebecca Koskey, Angela Agurkis and Haley Willis to score the first two runs with a grounder to Baylee Goddard pushing the score to 3-0 before Wharton could recover from the dizzying ferocity of the attack.
“Honestly I haven’t changed the lineup in some time now,” said Thompson. “I believe if it’s working no need to change it... if someone is struggling I will shift the lineup around to make things happen... But the current lineup seems to be working well.”
Sweatt powered through two strikeouts and a flyout to Mika Garcia at shortstop to pound any attempt by Wharton to answer.
In the second, the Knights again got the ball through the Wharton defense with Tracy Ferguson and Kistler singling but Acevedo and Koskey both grounding out to end the inning.
A hit batter was Wharton’s first baserunner, but Sweatt, Agurkis at first and Goddard at second defensed the next three batters out with Sweatt punching out a sacrifice bunt.
In the third, Willis hammered her first of two triples with Garcia equaling the task two batters later to score the game 4-0. Destiny Pacetti singled in Garcia and caused disruption on the basepaths with her speed on a Tracey Ferguson single that scored Pacetti from second base for a 6-0 score.
Sweatt shut the door with three batters struck out in nine pitches in an overwhelming display of pitching prowess.
The strikeouts erupted the enthusiasm in the Oaklead dugout as walks to Acevedo and Agurkis set up a Goddard RBI single with Agurkis alertly scoring on a passed ball and pushing the score to 8-0.
Sweatt gave up a walk in the fourth, but still blasted three strikeouts in the inning.
St. Thomas Aquinas and Cooper City, two Florida perennial powerhouse teams, were knotted at 1-1 into the fourth ining and played relentless defensive ball until the 10th inning with St. Thomas Aquinas scoring three off a two run homer by top hitter and catcher Lindsay Gehrig, who has eight homers and 26 RBIs, and a double in the 10th to go up 4-1.
“St. Thomas Aquinas is a very strong and reputable program,” said Thompson, who, despite eight strikeouts from Kelsey Sweatt, lost 11-3 to St.Thomas Aquinas in the 2016 Kissimmee Knockout Klassic, a mid-season tournament of state champion and Final Four from throughout the southeastern United States (Note: Oakleaf won the team title in 2017’s Kissimmee Klassic). “They have been in the final four (or better) the last four years in a row. I think it will be a good match up.”
Cooper City was only able to answer with two runs off three singles and walks in the 4-3 loss. St. Thomas Aquinas beat Cooper City in last year’s region 4-8A final 5-0 before losing to eventual 8A runnerup Countryside High 2-0 in the 8A championship game.
In the 2017 Kissimmee Klassic tournament, Oakleaf came home with the team title with wins over Winter Springs (1-0), Timber Creek (3-0), Viera (4-3) and Kentucky state champion Scott County (1-0) for the title. Of those teams, Viera beat St. Thomas Aquinas (3-0) and Winter Springs beat St. Thomas Aquinas (13-3). St. Thomas Aquinas also beat Barrion Collier (3-1) and lost to Rockledge (5-4).