High School Sports

Lakewood Ranch one win away from first state softball crown and a national title

Lakewood Ranch High’s softball team is one step closer to history.

The Mustangs demolished Cooper City, 12-2, in Thursday’s Class 8A state semifinals held at Historic Dodgertown in Vero Beach.

The victory means Lakewood Ranch (30-0), ranked No. 1 in the country by multiple polls including MaxPreps’ Xcellent 25 rankings, will play for its first state softball title Friday against Winter Springs, also 30-0 and ranked 12th in the nation.

Winter Springs edged Orange Park Oakleaf, 7-6, with a walk-off hit in the bottom of the seventh inning of the other 8A semifinal Thursday.

Lakewood Ranch made its fourth appearance in a state semifinal dating back 2012, including its second straight. In each of the previous three state semifinal appearances, the Mustangs were eliminated.

“I told them I’m not one to sugarcoat and kind of put things aside,” Lakewood Ranch coach TJ Goelz said in a phone interview after the game. “I said, ‘You guys are playing for the state championship (Friday). You know that. That’s enough to get you nervous if you choose to be nervous.’ But I also said, ‘You’re playing for a mythical national championship ... so let’s just get out there and let’s embrace it. Let’s embrace the butterflies, let’s embrace the nervousness.”

On Thursday, they didn’t need to sweat it out. Lakewood Ranch plated three in the first inning, before exploding for six runs in the fourth inning.

The Mustangs were patient against Cooper City starting pitcher Jasmin Herrera, who walked seven batters in 3 2/3 innings. Lakewood Ranch scored nine times off five hits to chase Herrera from the game in the fourth inning.

Claire Davidson and Payton Kinney, two of the Mustangs’ four Division I-committed pitchers, combined to strike out 11 batters, while allowing a postseason-high two runs in the victory.

Lakewood Ranch’s pitching and defense has been dominant since the playoffs began outscoring six playoff opponents, 72-3.

Maddie Koczersut, a senior committed to State College of Florida, went 3-for-5 with two doubles and three runs batted in. Davidson, an Auburn commit as a junior, and junior McKenzie Clark, a Clemson commit, also had multi-hit games, each going 2-for-4.

Winter Springs last played in a state championship game in 2011, when it finished runner-up. A victory for Lakewood Ranch means the program’s first state title, which would also be Manatee County’s first public school softball state championship. And as the No. 1-ranked team in the country, Lakewood Ranch would capture the mythical national title with a victory Friday.

Goelz said Brooklyn Lucero, who is committed to North Carolina State, is expected to start the championship game, slated for a 5:35 p.m. start.

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Sports reporter Jason has covered high school, college and pro sports since joining the Bradenton Herald in 2010. He’s won Florida Press Club awards for sports feature and column writing. He currently writes college and pro sports stories for the McClatchy East Region real-time team.