The banner season for Wesley Chapel High softball isn’t quite over.
At 18-6, the Wildcats already have secured the program’s best record — and first winning season — in its 10-year history.
Now comes the school’s first playoff appearance.
The team is set to face the Robinson Knights (22-5) in the Class 6A Regional Quarterfinal on May 3 at 7 p.m.
The game, at Robinson High School in Tampa, looks to be an intriguing matchup, as both squads sport potent offenses and legitimate aces.
A slightly better offense statistically, the Knights average 7.3 runs per game, with a .344 team batting average; the Wildcats average seven runs per game, and bat .337.
In the circle, Wesley Chapel will rely upon freshman Jordan Almasy (2.91 ERA, 121 strikeouts). Robinson, though, has multiple starting pitcher options, and could turn to either junior Cassidy Renninger (0.78 ERA, 64 strikeouts) or senior Sammy Conlan (1.39 ERA, 51 strikeouts).
The main difference between the squads is experience.
Outside of one senior, the Wildcats roster consists entirely of freshman and sophomores.
The Knights, however, employ a handful of juniors and seniors, plus Conlan and Renninger.
Beyond matchups, the bigger question for Wesley Chapel is maintaining confidence after its nine-game winning streak was shattered on April 26 — an “emotional” 10-0 loss to Land O’ Lakes High in the District 7-6A finals. (Both the district champion and district runner-up qualify for regionals.)
“It was very tough on them,” Wesley Chapel head coach Steve Mumaw said, describing the impact of the defeat. “They were disappointed they didn’t play as well as they know they could’ve played.”
Since the setback, Mumaw and his staff have strived to ensure the team doesn’t waver psychologically, during the most critical point of the season.
“I think with any athlete, you want to try to stay on an even keel as much as possible, and not be on that (emotional) roller coaster — but especially with a young team,” Mumaw explained. “That’s something that we’re trying to teach them, so that they can learn that everything doesn’t just ride on one game.
“It’s difficult for them to learn, but it’s something that as they learn and mature, then it’s going to make them a lot better in the future,” he said.
Besides the mental aspect, shoring up the team’s defense — “just all over”— and putting balls in play — “with authority”— are other priorities.
In the Land O’ Lakes loss, Wesley Chapel committed three errors, and cobbled together just four hits against Gators sophomore standout Callie Turner (0.21 ERA, 200 strikeouts).
On the upside, the Wildcats struck out just seven times against Turner, who averages about 13 strikeouts per start.
Another positive, Wesley Chapel should have more depth entering regionals, as sophomore outfielder Cassidy Middleton (broken finger) is expected to make a full return to the lineup.
Prior to her midseason injury in March, Middleton was the team leader in RBIs (10).
“She’s a very valuable outfielder,” the Wildcats coach said. “We’re just now starting to get her back where she can swing the bat without a splint on.”
No matter its playoff outcome, Wesley Chapel’s 2017 season won’t soon be forgotten.
Until now, the school’s varsity softball program never experienced a winning record.
Coaching instability and talent deficiencies yielded paltry results since the program began in 2007.
In its first five years, the Wildcats went 1-15, 2-20, 2-21, 1-22 and 2-21. Ensuing seasons were similarly frustrating, as the team went 5-14, 0-24, 2-22 and 7-17.
“It’s just incredible,” Mumaw said, of the 2017 season. “Once the season is over, I’m sure they’ll look back on it and realize all of the things that they’ve been able to accomplish this year.”
Considering the youthful makeup of the roster, Wesley Chapel figures to be competitive against each school in its district — chiefly Land O’ Lakes and River Ridge — for the next several seasons.
Future aside, the Wildcats’ focus is squarely on this week’s playoffs.
“We’re going to play as hard as we can,” Mumaw said, “and see how long we can play in it.”
Other regional softball teams in The Laker/Lutz News coverage area:
Class 8A: Steinbrenner High (17-5); Wharton High (16-5)
Class 7A: Sunlake High (18-6); Gaither High (15-8)
Class 6A: Land O’ Lakes High (24-3)
Class 3A: Carrollwood Day School (10-6)
Class 2A: Academy at the Lakes (19-2)
Published May 3, 2017