An early exit from last year's Class 5A-District 8 tournament with a 1-0 loss to Fivay has many on the Gulf High softball team wanting redemption. The Buccaneers finished 18-6 in 2012 and four games into this 2013 campaign are undefeated with key victories against Sunlake (5-0) and Zephyrhills (4-2).
Though Gulf may be considered a strong team in Pasco County, coach Rick Hohenthaner still believes his squad has to beat a playoff team to be a contender.
"(A) quick start for us was kind of unexpected," Hohenthaner said. "We brought up four or five junior varsity players and we didn't expect them to contribute as quickly as they have. When I put the schedule together, I wanted to frontload the schedule with big games early on. When we went into the game with Sunlake, we made a few adjustments and a 5-0 win was a huge shot in the arm. Though we've beaten a couple good teams, I still don't consider us a contender just yet."
Strong pitching and scoring enough runs was a trademark of Gulf last season and has carried into this season, outscoring opponents thus far 41-2. Junior Madison Morlan has started each of Gulf's first four games and is 4-0, striking out 17 batters.
Sunlake's slow start
The Seahawks arguably may have had the toughest five-game start to the season, facing Fivay (4-1), Gulf (5-0) and Pasco among their first few contests. Sunlake went 17-6 last spring, but has already lost four games, including a 10-5 loss to Tarpon Springs. Combined record of Fivay, Gulf, Pasco and Tarpon Springs is 13-4.
"We have a good team this season," coach Nelson Garcia said. "We're starting to hit the ball better every time out. The girls are getting better each game, but we didn't hit the ball that well. We lost some really good leaders from last year, but some girls are stepping up and filling the void."
Also slowly getting back into the thick of things is power hitter Stephanie Frances, who just joined the team from weightlifting. Frances finished 17th in the state in weightlifting in the unlimited class with a 320-pound total (170-pound bench press, 150-pound clean and jerk). Frances is Sunlake's best returning hitter after batting a .563 with six home runs as a junior.
Pasco pouring on runs
The Pirates (4-1) have racked up a ton of runs through the first five games of the regular season, outscoring Sunlake, Ridgewood, Wesley Chapel, Fivay and Anclote, 79-36.
Last season, the Pirates scored 202 runs through 22 games, and at the rate, Pasco is on pace to score 434 runs this season. Pasco's early success at the plate can be contributed to the hitting of Jordan Lane and Kelli Parker, each of whom have hit a home run and driven in 11 runs.