By Kyle LoJacono
The Sunlake softball team accomplished a number of program firsts a year ago.
The Seahawks (7-1) set a new record for wins in a season by compiling a 19-4 record. Also for the first time Sunlake beat perennial powerhouses River Ridge, Mitchell and Pasco and entered a district tournament as the top seed.
Unfortunately for the Seahawks they were unable to accomplish one other program first — making the playoffs. The squad was knocked out of districts by Zephyrhills in the quarterfinals, a fact that still stings for the returning players.
“Obviously we all want to go farther than we did last year,” said senior outfielder Courtney Durbin. “We were the No. 1 seed, so I’m just trying to get everybody on board with the idea that we can surprise people this year. No one is going to expect it.”
A resurgent Sunlake will have to rely on new leaders. The squad lost six seniors, all of which signed to play in college.
“They definitely have big shoes to fill; both teams really because junior varsity went undefeated and varsity went 19-4,” said second-year Seahawks coach Jami Finan. “I think the younger players who are back are going to be able to help reproduce some of those same things this season. We have some hard workers.”
Finan only has four seniors this year, but those she has appear to have the attitude needed to take the next step as a program.
“I just want to be a leader and set a good example,” said Meghan Durbin, Courtney’s twin sister. “It’s going to be really hard because we had a lot of great leaders last year, and they were all different. They worked together well. I think it’s going to be on the four seniors to find our own way.”
Senior infielder Hannah Bishop played in 10 games last year, where she recorded a .389 batting average with seven runs scored and seven RBI.
Sunlake gets a boost from Bishop McLaughlin transfer Amy Szymanowski, a senior catcher and shortstop, who hit .557 with 31 runs scored, 21 RBI, 18 steals, six doubles, six triples and four home runs last season.
Courtney and Meghan, a pitcher, infielder and outfielder, have been starters since their freshman years. Courtney hit .460 with a team-high 25 RBI, 13 doubles and 15 steals a year ago. Meghan posted a 9-1 record pitching with a 1.52 ERA while batting .393 with 18 runs scored and 14 RBI in 2011.
“The Durbins are leading everyone like they should,” Finan said. “They’ve committed to Rollins (College), so we’ll have some more people moving away to play in college.”
To Meghan, committing to a college was a relief.
“I didn’t want to go into my senior year worrying about where I was going to go to college; not worry about getting my grades up and doing showcases every weekend” Meghan said. “.”
For Courtney, it was vindication.
“There’re always people who tell you you’re too little, you’re too small, you’re not good enough,” Courtney said. “Just to be able to prove them wrong and being able to play at the next level feels good.”
The Seahawks are also getting help from a number of younger players, including freshman infielder Cassidy Kallenborn.
“I went to a few games last year and knew they were really good,” Kallenborn said. “I was pretty pumped up to come here. I didn’t know I was going to be on varsity because they were so good.”
Sunlake will need players like Kallenborn to fill in holes on the infield created as Meghan plays more in the outfield and after losing shortstop and team captain Alex Rogers to graduation.
Rogers, who is signed with University of North Carolina-Charlotte, hit .421 with 25 runs scored, 19 RBI and 10 steals as a senior.
“It’s a little nerve-racking because they had a girl like Alex playing shortstop,” Kallenborn said. “I remember coming to the games and everyone came to watch her because she was so good, but someone has to follow her.”
The Seahawks also have to contend with moving into Class 6A-District 10, which includes two playoff teams from a year ago in Mitchell and River Ridge. The new alignment also includes Tarpon Springs, a squad Sunlake has never played, and cross-town rival Land O’ Lakes.
“It’s going to be a battle, especially early in the year, but it’s not like we’re the only team that lost seniors,” Meghan said. “We just have to see what we need to work on and keep pushing.”
Sunlake plays at Tarpon Springs on Tuesday, Feb. 28 before traveling to Land O’ Lakes on Thursday, March 1. Both games start at 7 p.m.
–All stats as recorded to Maxpreps.com by coaches