The baseball and softball teams from Windermere High and The First Academy moved on to the regional semifinals.
Windermere High School is seeing double.
The Wolverines claimed Class 7A, District 5 championships in both baseball and softball Thursday, May 5, in dramatic, come-from-behind fashion. The baseball squad defeated the Dr. Phillips Panthers 5-4, while the softball team outplayed West Orange High 4-3.
“We talk to the guys all the time about holding the rope, and they ended up coming out holding the rope until the offense could figure some things out,” Windermere head baseball coach Eric Lassiter said. “We kept preaching after the first inning, just chip away, chip away, chip away and really just keep believing, which is what this team has done all year. And they believed they would chip away and win this game, and we found a way to do that in the bottom of the sixth.”
Windermere took the lead late in the game, when sophomore Tyler Head hit a sacrifice fly to bring in the fifth run, putting the score 5-4 at the bottom of the sixth and pitching the last three outs at the top of the seventh.
“It’s all for the seniors,” Head said.
Shortstop Blake Cyr drove in four runs for Windermere, batting a double in the fourth and a triple in the sixth.
That explosion came after a disastrous start, with the Panthers scoring four runs in the first inning.
“It’s honestly surreal going out 4-0 in the first inning, specially as a senior,” Cyr said. “Just thinking about the last three years I’ve been with Windermere, everything kind of flashes back, and the way we poured it all as a team and stayed one as a family, it was just unreal.”
The tension was palpable during the last inning, and the silence was deafening. After the last out, all the Wolverines emerged from the dugout to celebrate.
“It feels great,” pitcher and senior Simon Sobelia said. “We came to this place to win and that’s the mentality, to win every single game when we can and make it as far as we can.”
Sobelia pitched the first five innings of the game, allowed four runs on nine hits and struck out three.
Windermere and Dr. Phillips faced each other two times prior to the district championship game, with each taking a win over the other.
“This year was very competitive, anybody could beat anybody,” Dr. Phillips head baseball coach William King said. “Windermere and Olympia, being district opponents, were probably two of our bigger ‘rivalry’ games. But with most of the players knowing each (other) through travel ball, there’s always something a little extra.”
Lassiter said the Panthers were among the toughest squads the Wolverines faced.
“They were our second loss of the year,” he said. “We came back and beat them at their place, and then they were hungry today. … They played with a lot of heart. The shortstop kind of keeps them going; he does a really nice job keeping them motivated. … Kudos to Dr. Phillips, they came out and gave their best effort and made us fight for it for sure.”
The Wolverines faced Venice High School as they hosted the regional quarterfinal Tuesday, May 10, after press time.
In similar fashion, Windermere’s softball squad faced a strong opponent in West Orange High.
This game — a pitchers dual — featured West Orange’s Gabriella Lindsey and Windermere’s Lexi King in an arm’s race. The first run didn’t come until the bottom of the fourth, when Windermere’s Sophie Shaik hit a triple to put a run on the board.
“We talked a lot about where we were as a team and what we wanted to improve upon, especially moving forward,” Windermere softball head coach Eileen Hannigan said. “Just kind of the idea that it is not about how you start. It is about how you improve every game and every time getting a little bit better.”
The Wolverines faced some hardships this season; two main players had to step out of the game because of injuries in the middle of the season. Kaitlyn DeFranco underwent a shoulder surgery in March after earning the starting third base spot, and Miranda Murch was sidelined for five games after experiencing an injury that took her off the field for about three weeks.
“As a team, we tried to find a great balance and great communication,” Hannigan said. “The underclass had great opportunities to step up, and they’ve really taken them. I am really proud of what they’ve done.”
The Warriors were able to score three runs at the top of the fifth inning to take the lead over the Wolverines.
“We just take the approach that we are going to go out and we are going to try to get better every day,” West Orange head softball coach Todd LaNeave said.
Windermere was able to tie the game and take the lead at the bottom of the seventh.
“There is nothing but respect for West Orange,” Hannigan said. “Our program motto is ‘We B4 me,’ and really the idea is that the individual success does not come before the team’s success. … They are really playing together and they are playing for each other.”
The Wolverines will host the regional quarterfinal as they face Steinbrenner High School at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, May 12.
Because the FHSAA changed the rules this year, power ranking teams will move on to the regional quarterfinals. Therefore, the Warriors will face Lakewood Ranch High School during the regional quarterfinals at 7 p.m. Thursday, May 12, in Bradenton.
The First Academy baseball team is still on track to defend its state championship title.
The Royals blanked Windermere Prep 10-0 Thuesday, May 5, to capture the Class 3A District 9 championship title.
“It’s nice to win the district,” TFA head coach Scott Grove said. “We have a chance now that we’ll be the top seat in our region, so we get to host throughout the playoffs to the Final Four. We are really happy that we get to play at home, especially with our facility being so nice.”
Ben Barrett pitched all five innings and allowed zero hits and zero runs.
“We try not to be complacent,” Grove said. “A lot of times when you’ve had some success, and winning the state championship last year, you feel like when you show up you are automatically going to win, so you want to stay focused and try to do all the things correctly that give us a chance to win and continue to go on in the playoffs.”
The First Academy currently has 10 seniors in its baseball team, while Windermere Prep has only three seniors.
“This year we are extremely young, and we took a lot of right steps in the right direction,” Windermere Prep head softball coach Adam Taylor said. “The future looks pretty good for out program, I am proud of my guys.”
The First Academy faced Trinity Prep in the regional quarterfinal Wednesday, May 11, after press time.
Like its baseball team, The First Academy also took the Class 2A, District 7 softball crown after defeating Orlando Christian Prep 4-0 at a home game Thursday, May 5.
According to TFA head coach Kaley Gangelhoff, the team has worked throughout the entire season to set a “champions mindset” mentality.
Senior Hannah Harper pitched the entire game, allowing two hits while striking out 10 and batting a solo homer at the bottom of the seventh.
This was a tough season for the team, as the coaching staff chose to make a difficult schedule to allow the team to face tough competition.
“Watching these girls compete and pull off some big wins this season has been so rewarding,” Gangelhoff said. “I believe our strength of schedule has prepared us well entering postseason.”
The Royals hosted the regional quarterfinals and faced Seven Rivers Christian School Wednesday, May 11, after press time.
The Observer has invested in new technology, so you can enjoy a more personalized online experience. By creating a user profile on OrangeObserver.com, you can manage settings, customize content, enter contests and more, all while continuing to enjoy all the local news you care about — Click Here it's FREE.