TAMPA — Before the season began, Chamberlain High senior outfielder Izzy Ordorica told longtime head softball coach Bob Diez this year’s team would win a state title.
But unlike the seven previous teams Diez had taken to the state final four, this year’s group wasn’t built for a state title run, at least not on paper.
But Ordorica, one of three seniors on the team, saw something special.
“I definitely saw a lot of potential, even early on in the season,” she said. “We had such raw talent and everybody was such a team player. I knew that would factor in how we would play together.”
At 7:15 tonight, the Chiefs, ranked No. 5 in the Class 6A poll, play Eagle Lake Lake Region, the fourth-ranked team, in the state semifinals at Historic Dodgertown in Vero Beach.
The Chiefs have won two state titles, taking the 7A crown in 2012 and the 5A championship in 2003.
Senior first baseman Liz Diaz, who has committed to Saint Leo University, was a member of the 2012 nationally ranked team that won the state title. That team, dominated by seniors, namely All-American Bianka Bell, now playing at LSU, was expected to win a state title.
This year’s team?
“It’s not really intimidating, it’s just inspiring,” Diaz said. “I want to be that. That makes every ground ball worth taking for us.”
This year’s team was running in the middle of the pack until it stunned state-ranked Strawberry Crest and Bartow at the Bartow Home of Champions Tournament, finishing 3-1 in one of the more prestigious tourneys in the Southeast.
“That boosted our confidence level by us just saying, ‘We can do it,’ ” Diaz said.
The following weekend, the team won its division at the Kissimmee Klassic, one of the longest-running tournaments in any sport in the state, catapulting the Chiefs from unranked status to No. 2 in the state.
“We’ve probably done the best coaching job we’ve done in a long time,” said Diez, who in his 28 years as coach at Chamberlain has amassed more than 540 wins. “Just because they’ve grown and learned and continued to get better.”
Junior shortstop Lauren Williams, a transfer from Jefferson, leads the team with 44 hits, 16 for extra bases, while freshman catcher Hope Hernandez leads the team in runs scored with 49.
Junior third baseman Jenna Brownell, a three-year starter, is tied with Williams with three home runs to go with 36 hits, and Diaz leads the team in RBIs (37). Ordorica, who will play at UCLA, owns the highest batting average (.442) and a perfect fielding percentage.
In her first year starting on the mound, sophomore pitcher Olivia Dwyer is 25-4 with a 1.40 ERA and more than 120 strikeouts.
“If someone told me we’d have 27 wins, I would have signed that paper back in January,” Diez said. “And I would have told them, ‘You’re crazy.’ I always think we’re going to win, but I didn’t know how they were going to grow. You don’t know what they’re going to develop into, but they really have.”