When the Strawberry Crest softball team began its first season, it was the underdog, just like any other brand new school. But it didn’t take long for them to shed the new kid role.
By their second season, the team went 22-3 and won its district, the first such win for any Strawberry Crest team.
Now in its fourth season, the Chargers have emerged as one of the best teams in Hillsborough County and as a threat for a state title. Through March 27, the Chargers were 14-1 with 12 wins from the mercy rule. Strawberry Crest beat defending 8A state champions Durant 5-2. Their lone loss? A 9-8 thriller against defending 7A state champions Chamberlain.
Mindy Miltner has been the head coach at Strawberry Crest all four years. According to her, the program is right where she wanted it to be.
“When we first opened as a school, we sat down as a coaching staff and laid out our goals of what we wanted to do,” she said. “The girls have bought into the program now and they are getting accustomed to it. They work hard and they know the expectations.”
The biggest growth in the program has been the number of girls that play on traveling teams in the offseason. Miltner estimates that half of the team played travel ball during the first season, and now everyone on plays for a travel squad. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the team’s roster has more upperclassmen.
“We are a much more confident, vocal, and mature team (then when we started),” Miltner said.
Strawberry Crest has a power-hitting lineup that has slugged 16 home runs while sporting a.487 batting average. Through their first 15 games, the Chargers have outscored their opponents 193 to 18.
Helping lead the way is junior catcher Mia Fung, who has already committed to play for the University of South Florida. Fung leads the team with six home runs, has a .583 batting average, and, according to Miltner, has the strongest arm of any high school catcher.
“Nobody has stolen (a base) on us,” Miltner said.
While the wins may be coming easy for Strawberry Crest now, an upset loss in the district semifinals to Leto High School last year has helped Miltner keep her team on their toes.
“The Leto loss is in the back of their minds,” she said.
Junior Cacey Simmons agreed that the Leto loss has motivated the team this season.
“After last year I feel we worked very hard,” Simmons said. “Anybody can be beaten on any day. We realized the difference between confident and cocky.”
With the regular season wrapping up in mid-April, the focus will turn to the district tournament. Given the early exit they experienced last year, the Chargers are making sure they don’t look past anyone.
“We are just taking it one game at a time,” Miltner said. “We got ahead of ourselves last year.”