LAKEWOOD RANCH — Amanda Rak isn’t the same pitcher she was a season ago when she first stepped onto the state’s biggest stage.
At the time, the then-freshman simply wanted to keep the Lady Mustangs in the game after coming on in relief in the third inning of the Class 6A state semifinals.
Now, nearly a year later, Rak has taken on a new role as the Lady Mustangs’ up-and-coming ace.
It’s a role the sophomore right-hander, who has spent the season working on improving her speed and accuracy, has embraced.
“I’ve grown a lot since then, and I’ve been working really hard,” says Rak, who has even added a new pitch to her repertoire. “And, I’m going to keep working really hard.”
Rak’s quiet confidence has paid off for the Lady Mustangs throughout the season. Friday afternoon proved to be no different.
Rak tossed a complete game, allowing three runs on eight hits and three walks, while striking out eight to help lead Lakewood to an 8-3 victory over District 10 champion River Ridge in the Class 6A-Region 3 finals May 3.
“She just plays big,” coach Tony Cummins says of Rak. “You would’ve never guessed that she was sophomore. (River Ridge has)great hitters. They hit well one through nine, and she did a great job controlling them.”
With the win, Lakewood earned its second-consecutive berth in the state semifinals. The Lady Mustangs fell to Pembroke Pines Charter, the eventual state champion, in last year’s Final Four.
“It’s so great,” Rak says. “Two years in a row — my whole high school experience so far — it’s just awesome, and I feel like we’re going to keep going.”
Lakewood took an early 2-1 lead in the bottom of the first inning on Taylor Newton’s RBI single.
After watching River Ridge (28-2) tie the game in the top of the second inning, Lakewood’s bats came alive, as the Lady Mustangs scored six runs in the final two innings.
“We played the toughest schedule that we could play, and this was another one of those games,” Cummins says. “They’ve been in those 2-2 situations countless times in this 25-game season, and it paid off for us (Friday).”
Shea Fisher hit a two-run single in the bottom of the fifth inning, driving in Jenn Trotter and McKaleigh Goodale.
Newton opened the top of the sixth inning with a solo home run, and Katie Hopkins, Sierra Schappacher, Talli Sharp, Jackie Schoff and Trotter all added singles.
“It’s her stage,” Cummins says of Newton, who hit her second solo home run in as many games. “That may have been as key to sealing this win as anything. We were up by a couple and that put us up by three.
“Hitting leads to hitting, and everyone started hitting after that,” Cummins says. “The leadership she brings to the team cannot be measured.”
Following their victory celebration, Lakewood’s seven seniors quickly darted off to exchange their uniforms and cleats for dresses and high heels, before heading out for their senior prom.
“You have a bunch of kids who put their prom aside to come win a regional championship,” Cummins says. “Their focus was amazing. Their intensity was amazing. Their heart was as big as the great outdoors, and I’m really proud of them.”
Lakewood now will face Lake City Columbia in the Final Four May 10, at the Vero Beach Sports Village in Vero Beach. The winner will advance to the state championship May 11.
Contact Jen Blanco at email@example.com.
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Food and fun
The Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance and its Young Leaders Alliance have something to talk about: the organizations collected 764 pounds of nonperishable food and $1,295 cash to benefit The Food Bank of Manatee/Meals on Wheels PLUS.
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A little “Ho! Ho! Ho!” can go a long way this holiday season.