VALRICO — It was the performance of a lifetime.
And she's still a teenager.
On Thursday, Bloomingdale High junior Lace Smith, in her state playoff debut, pitched a perfect game against Sarasota Riverview in the Class 8A-Region 2 quarterfinals, striking out 19 batters in a 1-0 victory.
If that wasn't enough, in the top of the seventh inning, Smith hit a solo home run, her second of the season and her career, giving the No. 6-ranked Bulls the one-run lead.
It wasn't until after the game that Smith realized what she had accomplished.
“It was a great feeling,” said Smith, who improved to 20-2 with the win. “I don't think I've ever thrown a perfect game before. It felt good.”
Bloomingdale (23-3) faces Alonso (22-4) at 7 p.m. Tuesday in the 8A-2 semifinals. The winner advances to Friday's region championship game for a chance to reach the state final four.
This season, under first-year coach Mandy Schuerman, Smith has blossomed into one of the state's top pitchers. A verbal commit to the University at Buffalo, Smith enters Tuesday's game with a 0.78 ERA and 256 strikeouts in 153 innings, which ranks among the state leaders and leads Hillsborough County.
Schuerman, a former pitcher at East Bay High and the University of Florida, said watching Smith's perfect game was impressive.
“It's always an experience anytime you witness a game like that,” she said. “Perfect games are very rare. I was more proud of her consistency and how she stayed focused throughout the game. She was getting better inning by inning.”
For a while, being a dominant pitcher was something Smith didn't see in herself. A three-year varsity starter, she took her lumps early in her prep career as a starting freshman and sophomore on teams that missed the state playoffs.
“You can tell at the beginning (of the season) she didn't know how good she was,” Schuerman said.
As a sophomore, Smith went 14-7 with 164 strikeouts and a 2.79 ERA on a 17-7 team that lost in the district tournament.
“I didn't have any trust in myself last year,” Smith said. “I didn't know what I was doing. I knew what I was doing, but not with my spins (on the ball). I was thinking too much, saying why isn't this working and why isn't that working. This year, I've trusted myself.”
“Positive reinforcement,” she said.
And for a little extra motivation, Schuerman challenged her junior pitcher to break her East Bay record of 309 strikeouts in a season. Smith has a chance if the team reaches the state tournament.
The highest challenge for Smith, however, is winning a state title. Bloomingdale won its lone state championship in 1993 and has not been to the state final four since 2004.
“Win it all,” Smith said. “Win it all.”