Replacing an All-American outfielder, an all-state third baseman, a starting catcher and an interchangeable first baseman and outfielder- all of whom went on to play collegiately -- from a 22-5 team would be a challenge for any program.
And Plant was no exception.
"We had some big shoes to fill," Plant coach Melissa Sigmon said.
The Panthers started the season 0-4, losing a combined 19-11. Two of the losses were by one run.
"We're young," Sigmon said. "We have nine freshman and four sophomores. We have one kid basically playing the same spot as last year and that's (senior pitcher) Miranda (Clark). Everyone has played a different position."
Since the rough start, however, the Panthers have won nine of their last 11 games, which included a five-game win streak. The Panthers entered Tuesday's Class 6A District 8 game against Bloomingdale coming off a third-place finish at the Palm Harbor University Spring Tournament in Clearwater, which was captured with a win over previously No. 1 state-ranked and nationally-ranked River Ridge in the third place championship. Plant went on to defeat Bloomingdale, 2-0, to take first place in Class 6A District 8.
"We had to get some kinks out," Sigmon said.
Clark, who is verbally committed to University of Maryland-Baltimore County, is 7-2 on the mound with a 1.71 ERA and 100 strikeouts. Leading the Panthers at the plate has been junior infielder Kaitlyn Steckel, who is batting .326 with 15 hits and 13 RBIs.
"I'm very happy with where we are," Sigmon said. "We're getting better everyday."
SHOWDOWN IN PLANT CITY
On Tuesday, Durant (14-4, 7-0) will travel to Plant City (11-4, 6-3) in a key Class 5A District 8 showdown and one of the biggest rivalries in Hillsborough County. The Cougars remain undefeated in district play and with a win will clinch the top seed in the district tournament.
The matchup will feature two of the top pitchers in the county with Durant's Lauren Wolfe (8-2, 1.31 ERA, 75 K's) and Plant City's Mackenzie Audas (10-4, 1.49 ERA, 163 K's)
This weekend, Plant City, Newsome and Riverview will compete in the annual Kissimmee Klassic. Plant City will play Jacksonville Mandarin, the No. 6 ranked in the Class 6A state poll, in the opening round of the Blue Division while Newsome will play nationally-ranked Jacksonville Bolles, the No. 2 team in 3A, also in the opening round of the Blue Division. Riverview open play in the Gold Division against Cypress Bay.