Bayshore ready for return to prep softball semifinals

Pirates, Mustangs also in action tonight

jlembo@bradenton.comApril 30, 2013 

Braden River High's Ashley Allard, right, is congratulated by teammate Courtney Mirabella after scoring during the Class 7A-District 11 championship on April 18 against visiting Sarasota High. PAUL VIDELA/Bradenton Herald

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BRADENTON -- The last time Bayshore's softball team conducted a practice this far into the spring, Frank Luther was an assistant coach and his daughter, La'Tece, was a freshman.

Now the team's head coach, Frank runs the practices. La'Tece is his assistant.

And the Luthers have helped Bayshore back to another semifinal, as the Bruins head to Tampa Blake in a Class 5A-Region 3 semifinal 7 p.m. Tuesday.

The Bruins haven't advanced this far since 2005.

"Our goal was just to go through the season, have fun and try and get better," Frank said. "When we got on a roll, I knew we had something special."

Bayshore has won 15 of 17 and rattled off 11 straight before falling to Dunedin in the Class 5A-District 12 final. The Bruins (16-8) wasted little time atoning for that defeat, blitzing past Ruskin Lennard 16-2 in last week's Region 3 quarterfinals.

"We didn't expect this at all," said Luther, whose three starting outfielders are freshmen. "I thought it would take

a year or two."

Luther doesn't know much about Blake (12-10), and the matchup is a bit of an odd one -- the Yellow Jackets lost two of three games this year to Lennard, the same team Bayshore needed just five innings to beat last week.

But Blake also blanked Dunedin in a region quarterfinal. Dunedin defeated the Bruins twice.

The Yellow Jackets are paced by junior Amanda Weather, who is 8-7 with a 2.31 ERA, but also has 19 stolen bases and is batting .412 with 14 RBIs.

"I always tell the girls, 'I don't care about the other team, and how good or bad they are,'" Luther said. "I just care about how we play. ... As long as we play our game, we know we have a chance. We're just going to do what we've been doing."

The winner plays either plays either Lake Wales or Auburndale on Friday for the regional championship and a trip to the state final four in Vero Beach. The Bruins last made a region final in '04, when they lost to Pembroke Pines Charter in the Class 4A-Region 4 title game.

"In the beginning of the season, we were kind of slumping, and we didn't think we were going to make it this far," said Marina Clark, Bayshore's freshman centerfielder who also bats cleanup. "But as the season went on, and we got (11) wins a row, we really had the faith that we could do it. ... We knew this year was going to be different than past years, and so did Coach Frank."

While Bayshore will be trying to lengthen its season in Hillsborough County, the area's two other semifinalists will be at home: Braden River hosts Sarasota in a Class 7A-Region 3 semifinal, and Lakewood Ranch welcomes Dover Strawberry Crest in a Class 6A-Region 3 semi.

Both teams know their opponents well.

The Mustangs (18-9-1) didn't play the Chargers this season, but coach Tony Cummins had a feeling they would in the playoffs, and scouted Strawberry Crest three times.

"I checked out bracket before the first week of the season as I anticipate how it's going to go," Cummins said. "And as of right now, we're right on the money."

The Chargers are 22-4 and ranked third in the state in Class 6A.

"It's going to be a battle," Cummins said.

The winner meets one of two teams from New Port Richey in the Region 3 final -- River Ridge or Mitchell. Lakewood Ranch defeated River Ridge in last year's Region 3 championship game to make the final four, and the Mustangs are hoping to head there again.

"It's been a lot of fun," said senior third baseman Amber Wimmer, who knocked in three runs during last week's region quarterfinal against Tampa Sickles. "That's our main goal for the seniors -- to make it to the state final four again."

Braden River (21-5) meets the Sailors for the fourth time Tuesday night after winning the first three meetings.

The Pirates' ace pitcher, Courtney Mirabella, hasn't allowed a run to the Sailors in 24 innings while striking out 46.

Not that other teams have fared too well against Mirabella, who is headed to North Carolina State. The senior sports a 0.15 ERA in 137 2/3 innings this year with 276 strikeouts, and is currently riding a streak of 75 scoreless innings.

Awaiting the Pirates or Sailors is a pair of Tampa teams -- Chamberlain or Freedom.

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