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Dodgeball day key to Parrish Community High's softball state title

The Bulls (20-8) won the FHSAA Class 5A title game 3-2 over Gainesville High (24-5) on May 24.


The Parrish Community High softball team (20-8) celebrates a FHSAA Class 5A title game win, 3-2 over Gainesville High (24-5), on May 24. It is the team's second-straight state title and was aided by six East County players.
The Parrish Community High softball team (20-8) celebrates a FHSAA Class 5A title game win, 3-2 over Gainesville High (24-5), on May 24. It is the team's second-straight state title and was aided by six East County players.
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A day of dodgeball might have saved the Parrish Community High softball team's season. 

As junior Hannah Lewis remembered it, the team arrived at an April 11 practice having lost seven of its last nine games. The Bulls, the reigning Florida High School Athletic Association Class 5A champions, expected an intense practice to try to break out of the slump. Instead, Lewis said, Head Coach Erin Spivey surprised the team. There was no softball to be played that day. Instead, it was time for dodgeball. 

The only goal was to have a good time. 

"It was so relieving," Lewis said. "There was no pressure. We were finally having fun. Something clicked after that." 

Lewis said Spivey instructed her team to keep that pressure-less feeling for the rest of the season. Play loose, Spivey said, and the team would be fine. 

She was right. The Bulls would be fine — actually, more than fine.

From that point forward, Parrish (20-8) went 11-0, including a 3-2 eight-inning win over Gainsville High (24-5) on May 24 in the Class 5A championship game in Clermont to earn back-to-back state titles. Just like Parrish rallied to save its season, the team had to rally to secure the championship. Down 2-0 in the sixth inning, the team got RBI hits from senior Ella Romano and Lewis to tie the game. In the eighth, it was again Romano, who hit a walk-off double that scored junior Carsyn Kull. 

The Parrish Community High softball team (20-8) celebrates a FHSAA Class 5A title game win, 3-2 over Gainesville High (24-5), on May 24. It is the team's second-straight state title and was aided by six East County players.
Courtesy image

In the Bulls' celebration were six players from the East County area: Lewis, Kull, senior Alex Call, senior Julia Girk, freshman Alysa Jones and freshman Sophia Thomas. Lewis was a part of last year's team, but missed the championship game while recovering from a torn labrum. Lewis said being able to contribute this season made the celebration even sweeter. 

It was also, Lewis said, a more difficult season in many ways. When the Bulls went through their early-April slump, Lewis said, players were disappointed, not only because of the results, but because they knew they were preventable. 

"We let our guard down," Lewis said. 

It was never a question of talent. The Bulls graduated seven seniors from the 2023 championship team, but key contributors like senior pitcher Rylee Little (13-5, 1.76 ERA) returned, while Lewis (.383 average, seven doubles, nine RBIs) came back from injury and freshmen like Jones (.452 average, five doubles, 24 RBIs) were added to the mix. But it did take a while for the Bulls to find their identity and click in the way championship teams need to click. 

A key to finding that identity was finding the right motto. At first, the Bulls tried "Row the Boat," a phrase made popular by University of Minnesota football Head Coach P.J. Fleck, encouraging people to persevere and stay the course. Parrish even started reading a book co-written by Fleck and Jon Gordon on the subject. For unknown reasons, the phrase never jelled with Bulls players, and the program eventually dropped the idea entirely. 

A new phrase took its place: "Warrior mindset." That one clicked. That mindset, players said, involved sticking together and ignoring outside noise. Kull said players would raise their fists in the dugout during games, shouting "We ride at dawn" as a battle cry. It made them feel invincible. 

East County's Carsyn Kull poses with Parrish Community High softball's state championship trophy. Kull, the team's catcher, hit .308 with 10 RBIs.
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Kull exemplified the attitude herself during the team's state title game. Kull said she was dealing with a sickness during the state tournament and on the morning of the championship game awoke with a fever. She took two ibuprofen pills and played anyway. There was no chance she was missing that game, she said. Hours later, Kull scored the winning run. 

"It was amazing," Kull said. "Alex Call, she grabbed me and lifted me up. I was like, 'Oh my gosh.'" 

While players like Kull and Lewis were celebrating the accomplishment of back-to-back titles, freshmen like Alysa Jones were celebrating for the first time. They had to find their place on a team that entered the season with high expectations. Jones said she had no idea what to expect when she arrived at practice for the first time. On a team with a lot of talented, experienced players, Jones simply wanted to contribute however she could while fitting into the team's culture.  

She did a lot more than that. Jones hit .452 with 24 RBIs, both of which led the Bulls' regulars. For Jones, both her individual results and the team's results were beyond what she could have imagined. 

"After the first few practices I knew had a good team," Jones said. "I was just pumped that I had the chance to be on it. I had zero expectations. It was all surreal. It was a blessing to get to the title game and win it." 

Parrish will have a chance at three titles in a row next season. The Bulls will graduate five players, all of whom contributed to the title run, but Parrish has cultivated a lot of depth, and the team's less experienced players will continue to develop. 

That is a concern for next February, when the 2025 season begins. For now, the Bulls continue to celebrate. 

"We worked our butts off for this," Lewis said. "I'm super happy we went back-to-back." 

 

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Ryan Kohn

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.

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