This time last year, Lakewood Ranch’s softball team was a serious contender to claim the program’s first state title as well as Manatee County’s first public school state softball title.
After allowing an early run coupled with their bats getting stymied, the Mustangs left Historic Dodgertown in Vero Beach short of their quest following a 1-0 loss to Orange Park Oakleaf in the Class 8A semifinals.
For the group that returned from that team, the defeat became a driving force behind this season, which has resulted in a 29-0 record and the No. 1 ranking in the country.
“They felt we fell short last year,” Lakewood Ranch second-year head coach T.J. Goelz said after Friday’s region final win over Tampa Sickles. “And they felt had we won that game that we would have won the whole thing.”
And it’s put Lakewood Ranch in a familiar spot: the state semifinals.
For the fourth time in program history, the Mustangs are in softball’s final four.
They play Broward County’s Cooper City in Thursday’s Class 8A state semifinals at 5:20 p.m. in Vero Beach.
The three previous trips to state — 2012, 2013 and 2018 — ended in the semifinals.
This year’s team, though, is loaded.
The Mustangs boast 11 players committed or signed with colleges, including four pitchers committed to Division I programs. Kali Reis recently decommitted from UCF. Eight of their regulars are hitting .300 or better, with three players batting better than .400.
Some other eye-popping numbers from this season:
- Won program’s fourth straight district title.
- Outscored opponents 60-1 over two district and three regional games.
- Mercy-ruled all three regional opponents by a combined 33-0.
- Eight of the committed players are juniors.
- The team has hit 34 home runs, 73 doubles and 14 triples.
- The Mustangs have 61 stolen bases.
- The defense has only 19 errors in 799 chances for a .976 team fielding percentage.
- The four D-I committed pitchers each have at least five wins this season, and the team ERA is 0.79 with 210 strikeouts in 186.2 innings pitched.
Avery Goelz, a junior committed to the University of Florida, leads the team with a .583 average and has benefited from Claire Davidson’s arrival this season. Batting third, Goelz gets protection from Davidson, who bats cleanup and is an Auburn commit.
Davidson, a junior, moved to the area from Virginia and is in her first season with the Mustangs.
“I think we have the best three-four in the nation,” T.J. Goelz said. “That was one of the real upgrades this year was to get somebody to protect Avery, and Claire has done a fantastic job. That’s a tough two-hitter combination to try and go around.”
Goelz and Davidson have combined to hit 22 home runs.
In addition to Goelz and Davidson’s slugging, Jillian Herbst is the third member of the team hitting .400 or better this season. Herbst, the team’s leadoff hitter, didn’t play the regional semifinal and only returned in Friday’s region final as a substitute.
Her mother, Kathy, passed away the day before Mother’s Day due to complications from diabetes.
Jillian, a sophomore, turns 16 on Thursday when the Mustangs face Cooper City in the state semifinals and the team plans to wear blue ribbons for diabetes as well as having stickers on their helmets.
A victory over Cooper City pushes the Mustangs into uncharted territory, aiming at history on Friday against the winner of Winter Springs and last year’s nemesis, Oakleaf.