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Prose and Kohn

Lakewood Ranch High softball saves seemingly lost season with district title

Lakewood Ranch High softball's Grace Shaw-Rockey hit .444 as a senior in 2024. She will play for the University of North Florida next season.
Lakewood Ranch High softball's Grace Shaw-Rockey hit .444 as a senior in 2024. She will play for the University of North Florida next season.
Image courtesy of Danny Miller
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For Grace Shaw-Rockey, the 2024 softball postseason was about a return to past glory.

The Lakewood Ranch High senior outfielder and University of North Florida signee was part of back-to-back state championship teams in her freshman and sophomore seasons. But after TJ Goelz stepped down as head coach following the second state title in 2022, the program slid backward.

A 16-11 season in 2023 finished with a 5-3 Florida High School Athletic Association district title game loss to Sarasota High and, after qualifying for the regional as a runner-up, a 7-4 loss to Steinbrenner High in the regional tournament quarterfinals. It was an earlier exit than anyone in the program wanted or anticipated. Head Coach Todd Lee, who replaced Goelz, would step down after one season. 

The 2024 regular season — played under new Head Coach Taylor Gould, a program alum who played college softball at James Madison University — saw the team undergo a reconstruction, with Shaw-Rockey left as the only major contributor from those state championship teams. She did her part, hitting .444 with nine home runs and 25 RBIs. But the team struggled while introducing less experienced players to the varsity level. The Mustangs finished the regular season 3-20. 

That didn’t sit right with Gould, nor with the team’s veterans, who know how proud and successful the program was for years. As the regular season came to a close, Gould implored her players to bring their best effort in the district tournament — if not for themselves, then for the team’s seniors, who had given the team their all for four years and deserved to leave on a high note. 

Coaches make those kinds of speeches all the time, but the Mustangs took this particular one to heart.

The Mustangs started playing like the Mustangs of old. A 10-0 win over North Port High (6-19) kicked things off, followed by a 7-3 win over Riverview High (16-7) and its junior pitcher Allison Cole, who held a 1.40 ERA. In the district championship game, the Mustangs trailed Venice High (13-11) 3-2 in the top of the seventh inning before junior Lexi Meneely’s two RBI single gave them a 4-3 lead, which Meneely, which was pitching, held in the bottom of the inning for the victory.

Lakewood Ranch High junior pitcher Lexi Meneely had a 1.08 ERA in four postseason games.
Courtesy image

It kicked off a massive celebration. Meneely, who was a freshman on the 2022 state championship team, said this year’s district title win is now tied with the state title win as her favorite softball memory. That’s how much it meant to the group — particularly the seniors, who did get their positive ending after an awful regular season. 

“We wanted to keep building back the legacy of Lakewood Ranch softball,” Shaw-Rockey said. “We win district championships. We went in there determined to prove everybody wrong and we did.”

The district tournament resurgence did not come from mental willpower alone. Gould said the team spent the week before the tournament, which featured no games, practicing situational softball, with Mustangs hitters batting off live pitching instead of soft toss from coaches. Gould said the week upped the level of competition in the program. 

She also credits pitching coach Logan Newton — Gould’s sister and a fellow Lakewood Ranch and James Madison alum — with learning the pitching staff’s strengths and weaknesses and calling the right pitches in the right spots. The combined growth of the coaches and the players led to the district title, in the process doubling the team’s win total. 

The miracle run could only go so far. The Mustangs lost 5-0 to state title contender Windermere High (21-4) in the regional quarterfinals on May 9. The team finished 6-21.

The record does not look like much, but the team’s improvement bodes well for 2025 and beyond. Gould said she is particularly excited to see how Meneely continues to develop as a pitcher while working with Newton. Meneely had a season ERA of 4.34, but in the postseason allowed just four earned runs over 26 innings, which equates to a 1.08 ERA. Gould said she wishes she could put Meneely's gritty mentality in a bottle and distribute it. 

At the plate, Lakewood Ranch's leading returnee will be sophomore Peyton Burdick, who hit .378 with seven doubles in just 17 games. 

Seniors like Shaw-Rockey will not be around to see the team’s growth. Shaw-Rockey said she is confident it will continue, however. She’s also thankful for the experiences she’s had over her four years, the ups and the downs. 

“I’m grateful for everything,” Shaw-Rockey said. “I could not have asked for a better high school softball experience. It has given me so many great friendships and great coaches. I cherished every time I stepped on the field.” 

As for Gould, her first year as a head coach was filled with learning experiences, from working in those situational practices to figuring out how to manage the players as people. But she's proud of how close the team became by season's end. She knew the team had district championship potential, she said, even if there was little proof of it during the regular season. 

It's a step in building back the Lakewood Ranch standard, Gould said. But it is not the final step. 

"We want to chase that (standard) and raise it," Gould said.



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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