VERO BEACH -- Before last spring, Bayshore's softball team had never experienced the pressure of a regional final let alone the pageantry of the final four.
Moments after the Bruins' first trip to state semifinal had ended, however, coach Frank Luther believed he had enough reason to throw down the gauntlet.
"This is the expectation," Luther said Friday at Historic Dodgertown, where Bayshore lost 2-1 to Belleview in a Class 5A state semifinal.
Given what Bayshore is expected to bring back next spring, Luther has a reason to be confident.
The Bruins graduate two seniors in Brianna Potts and Kristin Staley, the latter serving as the team's starting catcher, captain and speedy table-setter who swiped 29 bases and hit .505.
The rest will all be back, including three sophomores in Friday's starting lineup -- second baseman LaShara James, and outfielders Marina Clark and JoJo Muldoon.
Not a bad trio to bring back. James led the Bruins in hitting (.580), hits (51), runs (53), RBIs (43) and home runs (eight) while tying Staley for the team lead in steals. Clark, who drove in Bayshore's lone semifinal run, finished with a .446 average and 26 RBIs. And Muldoon, whose two-out single in the seventh Friday snapped Belleview pitcher Jamie Adams' attempt at a perfect game, hit .506 while slugging .808, second to James' 1.068.
"People who I've never even seen in my life are showing up to our games -- just random people," Clark said. "It's getting out there. Bayshore has always been the underdog in everything, and everyone said how the softball team has actually put Bayshore on the map."
Then there are the freshmen, led by pitcher Miriam Schmoll. The hard-throwing righty twirled a gem against Belleview, striking out 12 and allowing no earned runs and four hits to a team that hit .425 for the year. Schmoll won 16 games, posted a 1.21 ERA and struck out 211 in 132 2/3 innings, all while swinging a middle-of-the-order bat that stroked five home runs, brought in 30 runs and hit .440.
Shortstop Maddy Ramirez hit .485 and outfielder Susie Blue batted .277 and accounted for one of the biggest hits of Bayshore's season - a two-out, three-run double in the sixth inning of the Bruins' 3-0 win over St. Petersburg Lakewood in the Class 5A-District 10 final.
"Next year, we're going to go in with the mentality that this didn't happen," Schmoll said. "We can't look in the past, we can't look in the future because we're going to lose absolute control of what's going on in the present. Next year, we're just going to take it pitch by pitch, inning by inning, and try and just get Ws on the board."
The team also returns junior starters Taylor Izatt, a third baseman who hit .377, and Ashley Perry, who moved to first base midway through the year and hit .250.
Luther praised his team's ability to deal with expectations after last year's Bruins made a stunning run to the program's first regional championship game.
Bayshore will encounter a similar scenario next season, though the Bruins will be doing so with a roster that now knows how to navigate the rigors of a regional tournament and what to expect when reaching the final four.
"This is, hopefully, a building step and a stepping stone so we can get the girls we're supposed to get, to keep them in house," Luther said, "and keep this tradition going of a winning tradition. The last two years we've been successful, and every year from now on, we're going to expect to get further and further until we get that state title. If we make it back it here next year in this same position, I think we'll have better results."