Prep Rally | Expectations can be heavy burden to carry

May 2, 2014 

The hardest thing to do in sports is to win when everyone expects you to.

Regardless of the sport, regardless of the season, there is no greater opponent than expectations, whether self-imposed or created by an outside force.

That's what makes Friday so special. For the second consecutive year, Lakewood Ranch and Bayshore, separated by a handful of miles, host regional softball championship games.

The Mustangs play Melbourne at 4 p.m. for the Class 7A-Region 3 title. (It's prom night for

Lakewood Ranch).

The Bruins play Wauchula Hardee at 7 p.m. for the Class 5A-Region 3 title.

Winner goes to Vero Beach next week, site of this year's softball final four.

It's a testament to each program to have made it this far once again. Ranch is now 3-for-3 in reaching the regional final under coach Tony Cummins, whose approach of using the regular season as nothing more than a postseason tune-up is, to quote Seinfeld's Kenny Bania, gold.

He has the Mustangs on the cusp of another final four berth. Most importantly, however, he has the players expecting this sort of success.

"With our coaching staff that we have and the elite girls that are on this team and the way we mesh as a team," said Ranch centerfielder Jackie Schoff, whose quick hands and quicker feet lead the Mustangs to a 3-1 win over East Lake during Tuesday's semifinal, "as long as we play together, we're good."

Expectations have become a given for the Mustangs, but they are bit rarer out in Bayshore Gardens, where the Bruins are attempting to reach the state softball semifinals for the first time. They've accomplished a truckload this season - a district title, program record 22 wins - but the most impressive things has been dealing with the pressure that accompanied last year's stunning run to the regional final.

This year's run? Not so stunning but perhaps more impressive, especially considering Bayshore has played this season with the proverbial bulls-eye on its back that's about as wide as the pitcher's circle.

East Manatee and West Manatee are hosting regional softball finals tonight, and perhaps both schools will be playing in state semifinals a week from know in Vero Beach.

That's what each school expects. And that's way Bayshore and Lakewood Ranch have made it as far as they have.

John Lembo, sports writer, can be reached at 745-7057. Follow him on Twitter @JohnLembo1878.

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