High School Sports

Lakewood Ranch softball team rolls on to regional final

Lakewood Ranch softball team, tops in the nation, plays green

The Lakewood Ranch girls softball team is currently the top in the nation.
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The Lakewood Ranch girls softball team is currently the top in the nation.

Taylor Woodring had one thing on her mind when she stepped to the plate in bottom of the second inning of Tuesday night’s Class 8A-Region 2 semifinal game against Tarpon Springs East Lake: honoring a member of the Lakewood Ranch softball family that passed away recently.

And Woodring went on to honor Kathy Herbst, the mother of Lakewood Ranch’s Jillian Herbst, in the biggest way possible.

Woodring’s two-run homer, her first of the season, was part of a nine-run explosion in the inning for Lakewood Ranch, which entered the game as the No. 1 team in the nation.

The Mustangs went on to a 10-0 victory in five innings Tuesday as they crushed an Eagles squad that entered the game with a 27-1 mark.

Claire Davidson and Maddie Koczersut led off the bottom of the second with sharp base hits off East Lake’s Tori Brennan, whom the Mustangs had seen previously in playoff action. Woodring stepped up next and picked a perfect time for her first homer of the year, a shot that easily cleared the wall in straight center field.

Woodring said she knew the ball was gone as soon as it left her bat -- and that she did Kathy Herbst proud.

“That’s really all that mattered to me,” Woodring said. “That was also for my teammates because they’ve been supporting me all the way through. Kathy was a great woman and she supported us all the time.”

The runs kept coming for Lakewood Ranch in the inning. Four straight Mustang hitters reached safely, setting the stage for Avery Goelz’s bases-clearing double to left-center. Goelz later scored the final run of the inning on a sacrifice fly by Maddie Koczersut.

Davidson continued controlling the Eagles from the circle in the third and fourth innings. After she knocked in an insurance run in the bottom of the fourth, Brooklyn Lucero shut East Lake out in the fifth. The game was then called due to the 10-run mercy rule.

“It was fun,” Lakewood Ranch head coach TJ Goelz said. “We got the bats going early and we were ready to attack. Our offense is in sync right now, and if we come out swinging the bats like that against whoever we play, we’ve got a pretty good chance.”

Goelz admitted his team was playing with a heavy heart, making Tuesday night’s win even more special.

“Kathy Herbst was a big part of the program,” he said. “She dove in and was really big behind the scenes. We’re missing Jillian, and I have no idea what it’s like for a 16-year-old kid to lose a parent. Our hearts go out to them and we told them we’d try and keep this thing going so we’d still be playing when she’s ready to come back and join us.”

On Friday night, Lakewood Ranch (28-0) will host the winner of Tuesday night’s game between Plant City and Sickles.

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