BAYSHORE GARDENS -- If you're trying to measure how successful Bayshore's softball team has been this season, don't just look at the scoreboard, where the Bruins have put up football-like totals.
Don't just look at that gaudy record, which sits at 14-0 heading into Monday's home game against Braden River.
And don't just look at the Miracle Sports Softball Poll, in which Bayshore is the lone area team ranked in any of the state's eight classifications.
Instead, do what Marina Clark does.
Look at the small sets of bleachers set up behind the backstop.
"Last year, there was probably six people sitting in the stands," Clark, a sophomore right fielder, said Thursday after the Bruins defeated visiting Manatee on Thursday in front of a standing-room-only crowd.
Clark then pointed down the right-field line, where many people stood and watched the game through the fence.
"This year," Clark said, "there's lines down there."
The Bruins are injecting buzz and spirit back into Bayshore and are having tons of fun doing it, averaging nearly 13 runs per game while charging to the No. 4 ranking in Miracle's Class 5A state poll.
This isn't a complete stunner: Bayshore returned nearly everyone from last year's team, which entered the five-team District 12 tournament seeded fourth but wound up reaching the Region 3 championship game.
But even Clark conceded that a 14-0 start, which includes 10 wins by 10 runs or more, has caught everyone a bit by surprise.
"We expected a good season," she said, "but not a phenomenal season."
The key to Bayshore's success, Clark said, can be found in the pitching circle, home to pitcher Miriam Schmoll. The freshman has posted a 1.02 ERA in 12 appearances this year, striking out 109 in 61 2/3 innings while limiting opponents to a .204 batting average.
Most importantly, Schmoll
has given the Bruins the big-time arm they lacked last season.
"We already knew we could hit; we already knew we could play," said sophomore left fielder JoJo Muldoon, hitting .574 and the team leader in triples (four) and doubles (nine). "Now, we've added something more."
While Schmoll has been solid in the circle, Bayshore's offense has been anchored by the young core of Clark (.468 average, 16 RBIs, two home runs), Muldoon and fellow sophomore LaShara James, who leads the Bruins in hitting (.711), RBIs (29), home runs (six) and runs (36) while slugging an eye-popping 1.355.
Setting the table is leadoff batter and catcher Kristin Staley, who along with Brianna Potts, make up the team's entire senior class. Staley has swiped 16 bases while stroking a team-best 36 hits.
"I believe we're stacked from top to bottom," Clark said. "We don't have a weak spot."
The side effect of having such a young and talented roster is the pressure to deliver. And grand expectations haven't been the norm for Bayshore's softball team, which made the region last year for the first time since 2005.
The Bruins, however, have shaken all of that off.
"I think they were petty prepared for it. Everybody was talking about Bayshore, everybody was talking about what we did last year," coach Frank Luther said. "They were expecting a lot of good things from us. And (the players) haven't disappointed. They came out, and they've done exactly what I know they can do, which is pleasing for me. But for the most part, they're just out there having fun."
Clark called the team a family. And Muldoon added hitters routinely walk back to the dugout offering a scouting report on that night's opposing pitcher.
"We really feed off each other," Muldoon said.
What they hope to do now is keep feeding the hype machine that is roaring after such a hot start. The most important part of Bayshore's record is its 6-0 ledger in District 10 play, which has the Bruins on the cusp of clinching the top seed for the district tournament and the first-round bye that comes with it.
"That's our plan. That's what we all want to do," Muldoon said about a possible run to state. "I don't want to lose, so we're going to keep working to keep that from happening."
The top spot will also give Bayshore home-field advantage for the semifinals, finals and perhaps a few rounds of region play, which means Clark should get used to seeing fans crammed around the school's softball field.
"People in school are like, 'We're not going to come unless you're winning.' And I'm like, 'We're (14)-0,'" Clark said. "And they say, 'Oh, I'm going to come to the next game.' People don't want to watch losers."
Consequently, people may want to watch Bayshore play softball for many years to come, especially since Thursday's starting lineup featured six girls who were either freshmen or sophomores.
"The Southeasts in basketball, the Manatees in football, they're getting all the pub. And they've earned it," Luther said. "And now that's what we're doing as a softball program. We're trying to earn that same kind of wow factor that everybody has for these schools, we're trying to bring that here into Bayshore. And for the next three or four years, you can see that happening."