By Andy Villamarzo
Hernando Sun sports writer
BROOKSVILLE- The long awaited trip to the state softball tournament is finally on the horizon.
After sporting one of the best softball teams in school history in recent memory, the Leopards will be making their first ever appearance in the state tournament when they travel to Dodgertown in Vero Beach, FL. Hernando will face Coral Springs Charter at 9:50 a.m. on Thursday May 23, 2019.
On the line is Hernando’s opportunity to reach the school’s first state championship berth. The Leopards feel like they have put in the necessary time and it’s time to cash in. With star players like pitcher Ali Shenefield on the mound, the Leopards believe a state title is within their grasp.
“We feel like we’ve put a lot of hard work in here and it’s our time to make it to states,” Shenefield said after Hernando defeated Cypress Creek over a week and a half ago. “We’ve continued to reach the region final and we wanted to get past that point. We feel like we have the team to win a state championship.”
With Shenefield on the mound, the Leopards will always have an opportunity to win and she will be Hernando’s starter here in the Class 5A state semifinal and potential state championship berth. Shenefield has arguably been one of the best pitchers in the state, as the senior has struck out 361 batters this season.
To make matters more in Hernando’s favor every time Shenefield takes the mound for the Leopards, the right-hander boasts an earned run average of 0.92 and her record is 25-3 with 25 complete games she’s pitched in. She’s also helping herself at the plate and has a batting average of .467 with 43 hits and two home runs.
Hernando (27-3) will face a Coral Springs team that heads into the contest with an overall record of 27-1. The last time the Panthers lost a game was back on Feb. 28th against Western in a 6-5 loss. If the Leopards are going to hand the Panthers their second loss of the season, they will need to put together their best outing of the year.
Coral Springs (27-1) hasn’t had the toughest road to the state semifinals and has out-scored its three opponents LaBelle, Pompano Beach and Key West by a combined score of 45-5. The Panthers are led by senior Lindsey Garcia, who has a batting average of .577, 44 runs batted in and has hit 10 home runs.
Shenefield will have her hands full with a roster that’s belted 23 home runs in 2019.
The road to Dodgertown has been a long one for Hernando and early on Thursday morning, the Leopards will get their chance to punch a ticket to the Class 5A state championship game.
Andy Villamarzo can be reached at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @avillamarzo.