Lakewood Ranch High softball Head Coach T.J. Goelz took a long look at the scoreboard after the Mustangs' 8-2 win Saturday against Lake Brantley High in the Florida High School Athletic Association Class 7A state championship, then shook his head.
"I kind of want to enjoy this one," Goelz said. "I didn't know what to expect. I really didn't. That was awesome."
Goelz was unsure for a reason. The defending champion Mustangs entered Saturday's game 29-2; both losses were to the Patriots (25-5), who beat Lakewood Ranch 11-0 and 5-3 in consecutive games in March. The Mustangs then went on a tear. As Goelz said before the game, the team the Patriots were playing Saturday is not the same team they beat twice in the regular season. But Lake Brantley was still sending senior Hannah Marien to the mound. Marien, who held the Mustangs scoreless across 10 innings in the first two matchups, entered the championship game with a 0.14 season ERA.
It didn't matter. Goelz was right: The Mustangs were a different team. Lakewood Ranch knocked Marien around, collecting eight runs off of her, seven of them earned runs, in five innings. Of the Mustangs' 10 hits, six went for extra bases. They were led by senior Grace Hogie, who hit two triples, and and junior Addyson Bruneman, who hit a triple and a double and collected three RBIs.
"We have been practicing hitting so much lately," Bruneman said. "This weekend my swing just felt good, smooth. I went into this game trying to swing hard and not focus too much on what pitch I thought was coming. I was just attacking the pitch as it came."
The Mustangs scored all their runs after the third inning. Lakewood Ranch sophomore pitcher Ella Dodge kept the Mustangs in the game while the team's offense warmed up. Dodge pitched a complete game and allowed two runs on five hits and four walks. She also recorded the final out of the game in spectacular fashion. With Lake Brantley freshman Jaiden Griffith on second base, Dodge faked a pickoff throw to second base. The rest of the Mustangs acted as though the ball went past shortstop Addyson Bruneman and into the outfield. Griffith bought it and broke for third base; Dodge easily chased her down and tagged her out, leaping for joy as the rest of her teammates ran to dogpile on her.
"They got two runs in the fourth inning and I was just like, 'Whatever,'" Dodge said. "Obviously you don't want that to happen but there was no doubt in my mind that our bats were going to come alive because they always do. Then we got five runs (in the bottom of the fourth) and that made me even more confident when I came back out (the rest of the game)."
Mustangs senior Sydney McCray said there was no secret to hitting Marien this time around. The Mustangs simply played better, she said. It was all in the preparation. The Mustangs were more patient, more willing to wait for the perfect pitch to hit instead of swinging away. McCray, who went 2-for-3, missed last year's championship win — and season — with an ACL injury. She still got a medal.
This year's feels a lot sweeter.
"Finishing off my career with a state championship win where I'm able to contribute, that's pretty great," McCray said.