Pembroke Pines Charter entered last season’s Class 6A state final as the underdog against defending champion Niceville.
After three runner-up finishes in program history, including the most recent in 2008, the Jaguars captured the elusive title with a 1-0 victory.
A year later, Pines Charter (20-3) returns for its sixth FHSAA finals during the past decade to face Gainesville in a semifinal at 4:30 p.m. Friday at the Vero Beach Sports Village.
“I think the program is stable, and we have kids where they come in now and their expectations are so much higher than when we first started,” coach Tom Fadul said. “It’s my 13th year, and the expectations now are far greater than when we first started. Their goal is to play for a championship.”
One of those newcomers is freshman Claire Blount (16-3), who replaced the school’s most prolific pitcher — Cristina Sacramento.
Sacramento tossed a one-hitter in the final and moved on to St. Thomas University. Fadul said Blount has “exceeded all expectations” as the first freshman to start on the mound for the Jaguars since 2006.
During three regional games, the Jaguars have outscored their opponents 28-0. Despite falling into jams, Blount and her teammates haven’t panicked and have worked out of trouble.
Six starters returned from last year’s team, including senior second baseman Victoria Gonzalez.
However, during the second inning of Saturday’s regional final against Naples, Gonzalez went back for a ball hit into shallow center and collided with Cheyenne Willeford.
Gonzalez tore her MCL and will not play at state, though she will make the trip. In last year’s final, she hit the game-winning home run in the fourth.
“I’m going to go up there and be the best leader I can be,” said Gonzalez, who led the team with six homers. “I can’t be out there with them on the field, but I’ll be their leader and encourage them.”
Adversity isn’t new to the Jaguars this season.
At the Kissimmee Klassic in late March, the team went just 1-3 against top competition from around the state.
“It was a rude awakening that we had to start getting down to business,” said junior shortstop Courtney Dart, who is hitting .556. “We have to be extremely focused and serious about winning, but not play tight and stay loose.”
This past week while Mother Nature wreaked havoc on almost everyone’s regional games, the Jaguars couldn’t practice because of the inclement weather.
Their regional semifinal game against Mater Academy was postponed three times before playing Friday morning and making a quick turnaround Saturday night against Naples.
“This year we’re more driven to get it since we won last year,” Dart said. “We just want to prove to people that we aren’t the underdogs.”