Lakewood Ranch softball team, tops in the nation, plays green
Avery Goelz fought off a couple pitches before getting one in the sweet spot of her zone.
The result: A three-run home run to kick start the Lakewood Ranch High softball team’s offense in a 12-0 victory over Tampa Sickles on Friday night in a Class 8A regional final.
Oh, and a few words to teammate Claire Davidson, who followed her at the plate after she rounded the bases.
“Right after I scored, I said, ‘OK, it’s your turn,’ ” Goelz said.
Davidson responded with a solo homer to complete the back-to-back first-inning jacks for the Mustangs, the No. 1-ranked team in the nation.
Brooklyn Lucero was in shutdown mode from the pitcher’s circle as Lakewood Ranch (29-0) polished off its third straight mercy-rule victory in the regional playoffs.
In fact, Lakewood Ranch has outscored opponents 33-0 over three regional games. And the Mustangs have outscored the opposition 60-1 when including two district tournament games.
“Pitching and defense wins championships,” Lakewood Ranch coach T.J. Goelz said. “I don’t think we’re going to score 11 every single game or 12 or whatever it was here on out. We have some tough teams coming up. But I won’t mind if we do.”
Now the Mustangs have their sights on Vero Beach, site of the Florida High School Athletic Association state softball championship. It’s a return trip for Lakewood Ranch and the fourth time the program has made it this far since 2012.
Last season’s visit to Vero Beach ended in a 1-0 loss in the state semifinals.
Winning a state title became the goal of practically every player this year, but took added meaning for those who returned from last year’s club.
“With the talent and everything that we have,” T.J. Goelz said, “we want to take it all the way through to the end. They know how special that would be for the school, for Manatee County and just for this area.”
Against a Sickles team that endured a 19-inning marathon regional semifinal lasting more than 5 1/2 hours on Tuesday, Lakewood Ranch stepped on the gas and didn’t let up Friday in booking another trip to the state final four.
Goelz added a double to go with her home run, tallied five RBIs and scored three runs. The Mustangs plated four runs in the first, two in the second, five more in the third when they batted around the order and one in the fourth.
A special moment came when T.J. Goelz put regular leadoff hitter Jillian Herbst, a sophomore, into the game as a substitute to play the field and get an at-bat.
Herbst’s mother, Kathy, passed away last Saturday.
“She’s been a big part of our team all year,” Goelz said. “... She told me the other day she wanted to win it for her mom. ... She’s such a good kid and that family has been really good to the program. They do everything the right way on and off the field, so it’s great to have her back out here.”
The Mustangs, with 12 players committed to college programs and four Division I-committed pitchers, head to Vero Beach for the state semifinals next Thursday. A victory means advancing further than they did last season.
But that’s not the ultimate goal.
The ultimate goal is polishing off a state title to become the first public school in Manatee County history to accomplish the feat.