After an 11-0 victory over visiting Sickles May 23 in the 8A regional finals, the Lakewood Ranch High girls softball players had to admit the feeling is different.
The Mustangs are the No. 1 ranked team in the state — and country, per MaxPreps — and they're a team that has smashed a state-best 34 home runs, 10 more than Winter Park, which has the second-most in Class 8A.
But consider that the last two years in the state playoffs, their teams have struggled to score runs in their elimination losses.
Last season, the Mustangs’ title hopes faded with a 1-0 loss to Oakleaf High and Central Florida pitching commit Madisyn Davis in the state semifinals. In 2017, it was a 1-0 loss in 11 innings to Plant City High and Marshall pitching commit Ashley Blessin in the state quarterfinals.
For all the firepower the program has produced, the Mustangs’ inability to solve ace pitchers in the postseason has been their downfall. If Lakewood Ranch wants the storybook ending to be different, its hitters need to come up clutch.
While the Mustangs could be forgiven if they were overly concerned, again, the feeling is different.
Lakewood Ranch coach T.J. Goelz suggested before the season the Mustangs' depth would help with offense in key moments, but didn't go further with his point.
If Goelz and his players are, indeed, confident they won't have a power outage in these playoffs, they are proving themselves correct.
The regional final win was the Mustangs’ sixth-consecutive game scoring double-digit runs. Four of those games have also been shutouts. The other two saw opponents get one run each.
Against what should be the toughest run on the team’s schedule — it is the playoffs, after all — Lakewood Ranch has played its most complete softball of the year. The potential promised by its roster in February has come to the forefront.
The Avery Goelz-Claire Davidson combination has played a major part in that, including back-to-back home runs against Sickles. Both juniors are in FloSoftball’s top-50 players in their class. Goelz is fourth, Davidson is 27th.
“We work well together,” said Goelz, a Florida commit. “I will go up to bat and then tell her what happened, what I saw. Then she will go up and talk about her at-bat with me. It gives us an idea of what is going to happen."
Goelz said it was cool to hit a home run in a playoff game, but it was even better to see Davidson follow with another.
"Right after I scored, I said to her, ‘OK, it’s your turn,’" Goelz said. "Then she did the exact same thing.”
Davidson, an Auburn commit, said hitting behind Goelz can be “a little bit intimidating,” but it also allows her to relax and not try too hard. Goelz's production allows Davidson to swing free. Goelz has nine home runs on the season, and Davidson has 13. As a team, the Mustangs have 34 home runs, the most in the state and 10 more than second-best Winter Park High, the only other Class 8A team with more than 16.
“Free” would also describe the team’s attitude. Following the regional championship win, the team photobombed its coach during his postgame interviews, dancing and jumping into each other’s arms. That personality has become a hallmark of the program in recent years.
T.J. Goelz said he believes that attitude will help the team’s recent play become contagious. Having final four experience — plus national tournament experience in travel ball — will be to its advantage, Goelz said.
There will not be any nerves when Lakewood Ranch plays Cooper City High at 5:20 p.m. May 23 in Vero Beach.
Then, everyone will see if the feeling is accurate.
Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.