Prose and Kohn: Ryan Kohn
A 12-0 defeat doesn’t look that encouraging.
It is, objectively, a poor result. But for the Riverview High softball team, it might be the challenge the team needed. The Rams are 9-7 as of April 2, when they took the aforementioned 12-0 defeat against Lakewood Ranch High. But there are a few things to consider when discussing the loss.
First, Lakewood Ranch is quite good. Supremely good. “On paper, this is the most talented high school team I have ever seen” good. That’s not my opinion, that’s a direct quote from Mustangs coach TJ Goelz, from when I wrote about the Mustangs for our sister paper, the East County Observer, at the start of the season. Lakewood Ranch has done nothing to dissuade that notion since, going 12-0. They are ranked second in the United States by both MaxPreps and Softball America. They have 12 players with college commitments, including Florida, Auburn, NC State, Clemson, UConn, East Carolina and UCF. Those aren’t small-time programs, eh?
Riverview senior shortstop Devyn Flaherty, a Florida State commit herself, said she loves the challenge of going against the best of the best, even if the results don’t go in her team’s favor. Hitters don’t improve by going against average pitching, and vice versa, she said. She’s right. The Rams didn’t get anything going against Mustangs starter Brooklyn Lucero, the NC State commit, but the experience will help them down the road.
And, for the first time since 2014, “down the road” might matter. The Rams have not escaped the district tournament since then, but are in the thick of contention under first-year head coach Michaela Stockhill, who played for the Rams from 2004-2008 and collegiately at Florida Southern. Stockhill said she has had her three-member freshman class of McKenna Flaherty (Devyn’s sister), Michelle DiPuma and Ashlee Woyciechowski perform above expectations, and sophomore pitcher Kassie Cross, a transfer from Venice High, has been the team’s workhorse.
“The girls have stepped up,” Stockhill said. “They are playing as a collective, not individuals.”
Outside of the Lakewood Ranch loss, the team has put together some impressive performances, including a 6-4 win against district foe Palm Harbor University High (11-4) on March 7, a 1-0 win against Newsome High (11-3) on March 12 and a 14-0 blanking of Booker High (5-6) on March 29.
It’s good Riverview has had those pleasant surprises, because they have also be undermanned all season. The Rams began the year with 13 varsity players, and two — senior Tete Smith and junior Holley Peluso — have missed significant stretches of the season with injuries. Down to 11 players, Stockhill said configuring the team’s lineup has been quite the challenge.
“We have to constantly think about our outfield,” Stockhill said. “It has changed almost every game based on players’ health.”
Stockhill also has to think about double-switches when changing pitchers. Against Lakewood Ranch, she took Cross out to give senior Taylor Curry a shot. But after making defensive moves prior, there was no one left on the bench, and no position to put Cross where she had experience. She went to left field and gave a valiant effort the rest of the game, but that is a tough situation for a contending team.
So, yes, a 12-0 loss looks bad. But going through it might help this scrappy, shorthanded Rams team get through its district for the first time in a while, and if it does, it will be worth it. When the team gets its full compartment of players back, it will really be game on.