Area's All-Time Best | State title just one of many highlights for 1995 Cardinal Mooney softball team

twolfrum@bradenton.comAugust 20, 2013 

The 1995 Cardinal Mooney High state championship softball team included, top row, from left, assistant coach Gregg Hassler, head coach Leslie Black, Erinn Blough, Jessi Kowal, Marcia O'Gorman, Stacy Anderson, coach Mike Horan; middle row, Aubrey Goldschmitt, Alene DeCaria, Beth Johnson, Christie Olivieri, Rhesa Grady; third row, Cheryl Muth, Natalie Horan, Kristina Eder and Lauren Hassler. PROVIDED PHOTO

The 1995 Cardinal Mooney softball team thoroughly enjoyed the 3-0 victory over Fort Pierce John Carroll that clinched its Class 3A state championship.

But, by then, winning the ultimate prize was old hat to many of the Cougars.

The junior-dominated squad won a state title, the school's first in softball, the year before.

No, the season's real highlight happened on April Fool's Day, when Cardinal Mooney marched into Naples, a softball powerhouse, and handed the Golden Eagles a 3-0 defeat. It was Naples' first home loss in more than four years.

"It was awesome. We went in there, and they were very intimidating. We didn't know what we were in for. They couldn't believe it," said Lauren (Hassler) Taylor, the team's left fielder.

"That was the best day of my life," said Lauren's dad, Gregg Hassler, an assistant coach for the Cougars. "I remember going to the concession stand and a guy said, 'Who are you guys?'"

Cardinal Mooney remains the only prep softball program in the Herald coverage area to advance to a state title game, let alone win a championship. The Cougars claimed the 2A trophy in 1994 and the 3A crown in '95. They finished 3A runners-up in 1996, '97 and '98 and got back to the state final and lost in 2001.

The 1995 team claims the title of the Area's All-Time Best by virtue of its overall resume.

Cardinal Mooney finished 30-5 under head coach Leslie Black, who was the Class 3A state coach of the year. The Cougars rolled to the state title, defeating Melbourne

Central Catholic (19-0), Tampa Catholic (10-1) and North Florida Christian (11-1) on the way to the final.

During the regular season, Cardinal Mooney beat eventual state champions Sarasota Riverview (6A) and Naples (4A) and downed state runner-up Naples St. John Neumann (2A).

Jessi (Kowal) Ray, a sophomore who would go on to pitch the Cougars to four straight state finals, led the way. Hassler enjoyed a strong season on the mound as well.

"We were just like family," said Ray, who turned in a successful college pitching career at Kansas University and USF. "It was a small school, and a lot of us had grown up playing softball together. At school, we were a tight-knit group."

Juniors Natalie Horan (catcher), Kristina Eder (first base), Stacy Anderson (third base), Cheryl Muth (second base), Erinn Blough (shortstop), Hassler (left field), Aubrey Goldschmidt (center field) and Beth Johnson (right field) presented a formidable lineup. The top senior was Marcia O'Gorman, who shared catching duties with Horan.

Said Taylor, now an estimator for Ajax Paving who lives in Venice, "It was a great group. I don't think many people had the kind of bond that we had. Character was our thing. That's what we went by. We had a lot."

Coach Hassler said the team's depth set it apart. The girls had honed their skills together in Venice and at Miss Sarasota Softball Complex as youngsters.

"All the positions were solid. Those girls I had were just terrific softball players," he said.

Ray, a stay-at-home mom with two young boys in Plant City who coached Lithia Newsome to the state semifinals in 2007, said she was surprised to learn that Cardinal Mooney failed to field a softball team this past school year because of lack of interest.

"You help build this program to what it was," Ray said, "and you're disappointed to hear that. ... Back then, girls were trying to get into school there to play softball. It was like, 'Oh, you're good at softball. You should go to Cardinal Mooney.' Kind of like it was then if you were good at baseball you should go to Sarasota High."

HONORABLE MENTION

2005 Lakewood Ranch

It was a heartbreaking story for the Mustangs, who may well have claimed the Area's All-Time Best title if not for a bad break.

Led by pitcher Melissa Dowling, a two-time Herald All-Area player of the year who is an assistant coach at Braden River, Lakewood Ranch finished the regular season 23-0.

But in its first district tournament game against Port Charlotte, Mustangs clean-up hitter Ashley Hanewich suffered a severe injury when she fouled a pitch off her mouth. Head coach Mick Koczersut said the injury affected his players, who dropped a shocking 1-0 decision to the Pirates. Port Charlotte entered the game with a 9-14 record.

2003 Palmetto

The Tigers spent much of the year ranked No. 1 in Class 4A and finished with a 30-2 record under head coach Chris Wilcoxson, setting the school mark for victories in a season. Left-handed pitcher Jill Shondel and top hitters Allyson Cummings and Lauren Walton led Palmetto to the region finals, where it dropped a 5-0 decision to Naples Barron Collier.

1996 Cardinal Mooney

The same cast of Cougars returned for a shot at a three-peat, but fell short 2-1 in the state final against John Carroll, the team it defeated the year before.

2011 Braden River

Sophomore pitcher Courtney Mirabella led the Pirates to their only state final four on her way to the first of three Herald All-Area player of the year awards. Braden River (26-4) lost to St. Cloud Harmony 2-1 on a squeeze play in the seventh inning of the Class 4A state semifinal.

2012 Lakewood Ranch

Pitcher Huntyre Elling and a lineup that boasted a team batting average of .356 advanced to the first state final four in school history. The Mustangs finished 23-7 after falling 4-0 to eventual champion Pembroke Pines Charter in the Class 6A state semifinal.

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