PHOTOGRAPHY BY ALICE MARY HERDEN
By Andy Villamarzo
Hernando Sun sports writer
The postseason for prep softball begins this week and only one team from Hernando County qualifies for the playoffs: the Hernando Leopards. The Leopards won’t be in a usual spot to begin the postseason, as Hernando begins the Class 5A playoffs on the road to face Orlando Bishop Moore.
Reason being for Hernando starting off on the road was a collapse in the Class 5A, District 7 championship game against Wesley Chapel Cypress Creek, in which the Leopards let a 5-0 lead evaporate into a 7-5 loss. Now the Leopards must bounce back and try to setup a possible rematch against the Coyotes and it starts with Bishop Moore. We take a closer look at the matchup between Hernando and Orlando Bishop Moore.
Strength of schedule
One thing that could be the saving grace for Hernando whenever they face teams out of the area is its strength of schedule throughout the regular season. The Leopards have had their fair share of tough opponents and it starts right around the Tampa Bay area.
From facing neighboring Nature Coast Technical, who always has a tough squad, to teams like Gibsonton East Bay and Lutz Steinbrenner and New Port Richey River Ridge, the Leopards have faced many of the tougher clubs around. The Leopards have also seen plenty of teams outside of the area, including Palmetto, Ponte Vedra and Jacksonville Bolles.
Hernando’s record at 24-3 compared to Orlando Bishop Moore’s 18-8 will not mean much heading into this regional quarterfinal matchup, but experience for the Leopards could play a vital factor.
Ali Shenefield could be the X-Factor
If there’s any one player in this regional quarterfinal matchup that could be the biggest difference maker, it’s Hernando pitcher Ali Shenefield. The right-hander has been one of the best pitchers in the state of Florida and her statistics speak to that.
Shenefield heading into this week has struck out 331 batters, boasts an earned average of 0.77 and holds a record of 22-3 on the season. Those are some impressive stats for her senior campaign. On the other side pitching for the Hornets will likely be senior Riley Oakes, who only yielded two hits in Bishop Moore’s 8-0 district championship victory over Taylor last week.
Shenefield was a bit shaky in the final couple of innings against Cypress Creek last week, but look for the senior to re-focus and be on her ‘A’ game when Hernando faces Bishop Moore.
Shake off district title loss
The district championship loss may still sit in the back of the minds for everyone associated with Hernando softball but there truly is no time to dwell on the loss. Hernando will have to quickly shake away the pain of the loss and look ahead to Bishop Moore. If the Leopards allow the district championship loss to linger in their minds, it could be a long night against Orlando Bishop Moore.
Andy Villamarzo can be reached at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @avillamarzo.