- May 28, 2022
The Lakewood Ranch High cheering section erupted as soon as the ball left senior Ella Coiner's bat in the fourth inning of the softball team's Florida High School Athletic Association Class 7A state semifinal against Western High in Clermont on Friday afternoon.
The sound of it was enough to know it was headed over the center field fence. All three Mustangs baserunners knew it, too; one, senior Grace Hogie, began leaping while jogging to third base. The three baserunners and the rest of the team greeted Coiner at home plate and jumped some more. Why not? Coiner's grand slam had increased the Mustangs' lead over Western to 10-3. After a lengthy rain and lightning delay in the fifth inning, the team would add one more run and secure an 11-3 victory, earning a spot in Saturday's state championship game.
It is exactly where the defending champions expected to be. That is why, despite enjoying the win, all of their focus is on Saturday.
"I like how our bats are feeling right now, going into tomorrow," Coiner said. "We have been to states a bunch of times now. We are used to it. No butterflies.
"We are going to bring it."
Coiner said the grand slam was the first of her softball career, making the moment even more special. Mustangs Head Coach T.J. Goelz said the big fourth inning allowed him to relax — a little — when the rain and lightning delay hit. Without those runs, the post-delay innings would have had more at stake. Instead, the big lead allowed the Mustangs to play loose and allowed Goelz the chance to give Ella Dodge, the team's starting pitcher, a bit of a rest; Coiner pitched the seventh inning and allowed no runs. Dodge pitched the first six innings, allowing three runs on six hits.
Lakewood Ranch (29-2) will play Lake Brantley High (25-4) for the Class 7A state championship at 5:30 p.m. Saturday. The Patriots handed the Mustangs both of their regular losses in back-to-back games in March. Coming back to beat the Patriots for the state title would be a fitting ending for the Mustangs' season.
"We're a different team than we were in March," Goelz said. "We have a lot of momentum going. … I think it is going to be a good game. It will come down to whoever plays the best in the moment, not necessarily who has the most talent.