Softball Gulliver 9, Madison County 1

Raiders roll to fourth title in a row

 

Gulliver Prep won its sixth title overall behind Gabbee Draney’s stellar pitching and a team effort at the plate.

a1fernandez@MiamiHerald.com

Pitcher Gabbee Draney couldn’t help getting emotional even before the game was over.

Seniors like Ashley Leon and Stephanie Texeira were standing at their bases, maintaining the quiet reserve of veterans.

Once the final out was recorded, it didn’t matter how many times they had experienced the feeling of winning a state championship.

All of Miami Gulliver Prep’s softball players let their emotions out.

The Raiders piled up on the field Saturday afternoon at the Vero Beach Sports Village and celebrated their fourth consecutive state championship following a 9-1 rout of Madison County in the Class 4A final.

“I’m so happy because coming to play here changed my life,” said Draney, who couldn’t hold back tears of joy after the game either. “Winning this with these girls means so much to me.”

Gulliver’s championship tied its program with Naples (1993-96) for the second longest championship streak in state history. The streak is second only to Bartow, which won five in a row from 2002 to 2006.

The championship was Gulliver’s sixth, giving the Raiders the most of any South Florida school and third-most in state history also behind Bartow (10) and Naples (7).

“It means a tremendous thing because those are programs that I have a lot of respect for,” said Gulliver coach Mark Schusterman, who helped start the program 28 years ago. “I’m really lucky because I work at a great school and have a great coaching staff with people like Ralph [Suarez], Dani [Bowen] and Steve Hager, who was at Palmetto last year and guided them to the finals. He was a huge addition for us this year.”

Draney, a junior, was part of Gulliver’s championship last season. But this season was a new experience for her because she took over the role as the Raiders’ primary starting pitcher.

Draney pitched six innings and gave up only one run on two hits while striking out six to pick up the victory — her second of the weekend and 19th of the season to finish with a record of 19-4.

While Madison County (14-15) struggled to hit Draney’s pitches consistently, the Cowgirls couldn’t get Draney out themselves. Draney went 5 for 5, scoring two runs.

Leon, an Auburn signee, and Texeira, an FIU signee, completed a high school championship sweep as starters on the team. Leon went 1 for 4 and scored a run. Texeira went 2 for 3 and drove in four runs.

“I’m ecstatic because to end our careers like this is amazing,” Leon said. “We’ve known each other practically since we were in diapers. This is great.”

Texeira capped her high school career in style.

Texeira hit her 17th home run of the season on her final at-bat in the bottom of the sixth inning. She blasted a two-run shot over the right field fence that capped the scoring in the game and a stellar hitting career.

Texeira’s total is the most in a single-season by any player in Miami-Dade or Broward County in the fast-pitch era. She also finished tied for second in state history with DeLand’s Shellie Robinson and only two off the record set by Orlando Pine Castle Christian’s Brittney Pumpelly.

Texeira finished her career with 47 home runs, also the most by a Dade player in that category.

“All I heard in the dugout was [Leon] scream out Tex wants this,” Texeira said. “I was like, you know what, I do. I swung and it all worked out in my favor.”

Gulliver loses four seniors. To keep the title streak going, Gulliver knows it will need its strong returning players to keep progressing.

On Saturday, some of them gave the Raiders reason for optimism as junior shortstop Crystal Garcia went 2 for 2, freshman Jessica Rivera had two hits and two RBI, and sophomore catcher Tori Rios hit a key two-run double.

“We had confidence we could get it done with this group from the beginning of the season,” Texeira said. “I have no doubt this team will keep it going.”

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