After five seasons at the helm, Sunlake softball coach Nelson Garcia finally has “the system” in place.
That system has helped guide the Seahawks to their best record (16-8) since 2012 (17-6), Garcia’s first season as coach. That year, he had the fortune of leading a team that featured several standouts with post-secondary softball talent — Stephanie Francis (Jacksonville University), Courtney Durbin (Rollins College) and Amy Szymanowski (Florida State University).
Rebuilding years in 2013 (9-11) and 2014 (9-16) have paved the way for a team that currently stands at 15-8 and recently clinched the No. 2 seed for the Class 7A, District 10 tournament.
Despite a key injury to an already youthful pitching staff, the Seahawks have stayed afloat with a potent lineup that has a combined .393 batting average and .479 on-base percentage.
With a bevy of .400 hitters, including one of the area’s top power threats in senior Gianna Basilone, Garcia likens the stacked order to those of the old New York Yankee teams, where opposing pitchers are worn down by the time they’ve gotten through the lineup.
“I like to try to do to people what the Yankees used to do from a few years ago,” he said. “I want them to be tired by the time they get through our order. Then we can go small ball.”
A combination of an offseason weight training program and “a lot of detail work” including station-to-station hitting drills has facilitated an increase in the team’s offensive output.
“The biggest thing is the team has got to buy into the program, and they’ve got to really want to be there,” Garcia said. “And this group, this is probably the best. They’ve really all gelled together.”
Facing some of the top teams within the district — Mitchell and Osceola — and outside the district — Land O’ Lakes and Gulf— has battle-tested Garcia’s group for a deep playoff run.
“We try to keep the attitude of: ‘Whoever shows up on the other side of the dugout, that’s the one we want to beat,’” he said.
“I think we can compete against anyone, especially if we’re playing our game.”
For Garcia, “playing our game” means everyone on the roster handles the job they are assigned, whether that’s making plays in the field, laying down a bunt to move a runner over or driving in runs.
The Seahawks are getting hot at the right time, and could be poised to be a bigger threat than just a few weeks ago as a previously injured pitcher returns to the starting rotation.
Freshman pitcher Morgan Boudreau was slated to be the team’s second arm in the rotation alongside sophomore workhorse Mariah Melendez (2.94 ERA in 21 starts), until she broke her ankle during a preseason game.
“That changed a lot of things,” Garcia said about Boudreau’s absence. “The pitching staff was supposed to be a little different. We had two very good pitchers coming in, …and she was also supposed to be our starting first baseman.”
“We’ve taken adversity and have done well with it,” he added.
Boudreau appears to be working her way back to the lofty expectations the coaching staff set upon her before the season, striking out three in two shutout innings in a 15-0 win over Fivay on April 1.
Now armed with a fully stocked pitching staff to complement a deep lineup, the Seahawks ought to be able to “compete against anyone.”
Published April 13, 2016