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Windermere Observer Thursday, Apr. 7, 2016 3 years ago

Softball: Freshmen, returners infuse pride into Panthers softball

Despite graduating eight seniors from the 2015 team, this year’s Dr. Phillips softball team has played better than expected and is laying the foundation for a strong future.
by: Steven Ryzewski Senior Sports Editor

DR. PHILLIPS Although it may not be apparent at first, a close look at the softball field at Dr. Phillips High can tell you a lot about the program.

Whether it’s the newly added fence cap along the outfield wall, the decorative flags, picnic tables for spectators or upgrades to the facility’s building and press box, the details and effort to renew the field reflect a broader sense of pride in the program.

“This facility was not in good shape,” new head coach Mike Gale said. “Our parents and these girls have done all this.”

It is particularly impressive if you consider that, after the graduation of two-thirds of last year’s team, just four players were returning for the Panthers: senior Rebekah Boggs, juniors Nini Underwood and Cristina Mandry-Campbell and sophomore Hannah Eden.

Junior Nini Underwood has emerged as a leader for the Panthers.

Of those, Underwood was the only returning starter. Accordingly, things felt bleak before Gale was hired in September and the girls embarked on their fall season.

“Honestly, I thought we were going to be a lot worse,” Underwood said. “I didn’t even think we were going to have a team this year. … (The freshmen) came out of nowhere, and they were committed.”

Eight freshmen have helped to infuse energy into the Panthers (10-11) this spring. Along with the four returners, the young Dr. Phillips roster recovered after a rocky start to the season to put together a mid-season stretch that saw the Panthers win seven out of eight games.

“We just had so much chemistry right from the start,” Boggs said. “(The new girls) all work so hard, it doesn’t really matter what grade they’re in. I’ve been really impressed by how well they have picked it up.”

Among those new additions are five freshmen who play regularly, including Raychel Trocki, Deija Benn, Alexa Wexler, Megan Rush and Kati Kely. Trocki, in particular, has been effective on the mound for the Panthers.

“These young kids have been put under pressure to improve, and that’s where we got better,” Gale said, referencing an early portion of the schedule that featured several of the region’s best teams. “A lot of these kids are 14 and playing 18-year-old girls who play travel ball.”

With the graduation of the team’s best player, current Hampton University freshman catcher Sarah Kollas, Underwood has emerged as the new leader in the dugout.

“She’s our captain and our leader,” Gale said of the talented junior. “She just stepped right in there and took the job and has done a great job.”

Mike Gale is coaching for Dr. Phillips after previous stops at Ocoee, Edgewater and Oak Ridge, among others.

After its strong stretch in the middle of the season, Dr. Phillips encountered some hiccups and dropped six games in a row, including some important district games. On April 1, the Panthers regained some of the loose form they had had success with earlier in the season, with a doubleheader sweep of district opponent Cypress Creek.

The bounce-back effort ahead of next week’s district tournament is emblematic of a team that has been undeterred all season — win or lose.

“An umpire said to me the other night, ‘Coach, your kids never quit,’” Gale said. “It’s a testament to their character. They’re quality kids.”

Contact Steven Ryzewski at [email protected].

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