Alan Dell

Commentary | Lakewood Ranch softball team brings back memories of the good old baseball days

Instead of Lastings Milledge, Ryan Kennedy and Larry Cobb, the names are Huntyre Elling, Dana Hutchins and "Figgie" Newton.

The ball is bigger, the pitcher throws underhand, and the bases are closer together.

There won't be any big-money contracts awaiting them, but the girls of Lakewood Ranch are creating almost as much excitement as their male counterparts did nearly a decade ago in 2003 when they won the Class 5A state baseball championship.

That male trio had earned a special status before it got to high school when it reached the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa. They later made their baseball personas legendary around these parts by winning a state title in the school's sixth year of existence.

Milledge became a first-round draft pick (12th overall) of the New York Mets and signed a multimillion-dollar contract. Kennedy started at second base on two national championship teams at the University of Tampa and was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels. Cobb played at the College of Charleston and was drafted by the Oakland Athletics.

There are no major-league scouts following the girls to offer million-dollar contracts. But that's OK with them. Their values are old school. They just want to win and have something to tell their grandchildren.

But in many other ways, the '03 baseball team and

2012 softball squad mirror each other.

They are both strong up the middle, have good pitching and possess that special chemistry you need to win state championships.

The baseball team had Kennedy at short and Cobb at second, two guys who formed the best double play combination the program has ever seen. And could they hit.

The girls have McKaleigh Goodale at short and Jen Trotter at second and, yes, they can swing the bats. Goodale (.395 batting average) leads the team in homers (five) and runs scored (32). Trotter (.392) plays as if she took batting tips from Ty Cobb. Her ability to hit it "where they ain't" would drive Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon crazy, confounding those sophisticated spray charts he uses to position defenders.

Goodale has a family lineage that breeds superstars. Her mother, Stacey, played shortstop in high school and at Heidelberg College in Ohio and played a huge role in her development.

On the mound, the baseball team used a rare lefty combo in Brent Solich and Ryan LaCross.

Solich played at Louisiana-Lafayette and was drafted by the Los Angeles Angels. LaCross played at Florida Atlantic and signed with the Arizona Diamondbacks.

In softball, only one pitcher is necessary, and the Mustangs have all they need in Elling, who has signed with Indian River State College.

Another nice item to have is that unexpected player who seems to appear out of nowhere and become a vital cog.

The baseball team had that in Rocky Schwartz. A football star who had a successful career at the University of Houston, he came out for baseball because he was looking for something to do his senior year.

The softball team has a similar player in freshman Jackie Schoff. With Schoff unable to play because of a shoulder injury, Ranch head coach Tony Cummins saw what she could do with the bat and inserted her in the lineup early in the season as his designated hitter. It was an experiment.

She made it impossible for him to take her out of the lineup and is the Mustangs' leading hitter with a .419 batting average.

"Jackie is a special kid, the kind of a kid that comes along only every now and again. She is pure athleticism and has an awesome attitude," Cummins said.

She is another girl who comes from a family of athletes and is following in the footsteps of her mother, Dawn, who was a cheerleader, track standout and softball player in high school. Jackie came in second in the 100-meter dash last year in the Manatee County middle school track meet.

They say every championship team needs a superstar, and Ranch baseball certainly had one in Milledge, who was flawless in center field, stole 44 bases without getting caught and finished his senior year with a .419 batting average.

This softball team has no superstar, but a lot of stars, including six players who have either signed letters of intent to play softball in college or verbally committed.

They play a sport that is similar to the bygone days of high school baseball, where fanfare was minimal, radar guns were science fiction and a player's exploits were sent mainly by word of mouth.

They are worth the price of admission.

Alan Dell, Herald sports writer, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 2112.

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