The Palmetto High softball team has won three state titles, made 10 Final Fours, and every girl on the Panthers roster has been playing travel ball for years —many of them for the same club. So, they were heavy favorites heading into Thursday night’s GMAC Championship game against Coral Gables High, in its first GMAC final in school history.
Palmetto won 10-0 in six innings on the 10-run mercy rule after sophomore first baseman Lauren Margolis cracked a three-run homerun over the left-field fence at Palmetto Bay Park in her final at-bat. Her teammates swarmed her, and coach Emilio Exposito said he wasn’t surprised the game ended on a blast by Margolis. It was the Panthers’ sixth GMAC title in 11 years.
“Lauren’s had an amazing year at the plate and on the field,” Esposito said. “She’s been my fourth batter since Day One, and done an outstanding job. She’s clutch, always comes through. She’s a phenomenal player.”
Margolis, when was 1 for 3 on the night, said: “At first I was just thinking hit it to the outfield so the run can come in, and then I realized she was pitching a lot of outside, and that one pitch came and I just took it. I knew right away [it was a homerun]. You can sort of feel it. It’s a good feeling. It’s awesome, it’s great, I love it.”
Brittney Barczak pitched six shutout innings, giving up only one hit. She struck out seven and improved her season record to 12-1. The Panthers (23-2) also got big games from Hannah Burge, who was 4 for 4 with a double, one stolen base and two runs scored; and Jailah Williams, who went 2 for 3 with a double, two runs scored and one RBI.
The Panthers had a heartbreaking late-inning loss to Tampa Alonso in the state semifinal last year, and that has motived them.
“The girls have worked really hard this year, coming up short of our goal last year has made them hungrier than ever,” Esposito said.
Gables coach Natalie de la Vega, a former Cavaliers player who graduated in 2001, was also proud of her team, despite the lopsided loss. Her team has two seniors, two juniors and the rest underclassmen, including two freshman starting pitchers.
“I think it’s a great accomplishment, just to show what we have in the future because our team is very young,” de la Vega said. “We’re a force to be reckoned with in the next couple of years. I didn’t expect much coming in. I just wanted them to let people know that we’re a team that you can’t take for granted.”
She felt the Cavaliers (14-7) were a bit intimidated by the Panthers at the start of the game. Gables’ only hit was a double by senior second baseman Natalie Regalado.
“I think we were a little timid coming in, and once they scored a few runs, we kind of flatlined,” she said. “It’s hard to come back from that, especially when you keep hearing the name ‘Palmetto, Palmetto, Palmetto.’ But it’s nice the girls making a name for themselves because no one really takes the name Gables very seriously in softball.”
“It’s rewarding coaching these girls because we don’t have — Palmetto and Coral Reef all 15 players play travel ball and get the high-end batting lessons. I get the girls who have never really played before. It’s very rewarding to watch them go from scared of the ball to finally getting the ball to finally having the confidence and reaching GMAC finals.”
▪ Westminster Christian 16, Calvary Christian 1: WP: Isabella Artiles (2-0) 3 IP, 3 K’s. WC (19-5): Adri Otero 3-4, HR, 3 R, 3 RBI. Megan Diaz 3-4, 2B, 3 RBI. Nikkia Benitez 2-3, 2B, 2 RBI.
▪ TERRA 9, Ferguson 1: Veronnica Sanchez 14 K’s, 0H, 3-4, 3 2B. Emily Mendoza 4-4, 3 R, 4 SB. TER 10-6.
▪ Ransom Everglades 19, Everglades Prep 0: WP: Gaby Jadotte CG, 6 K’s. RE (7-6): Gaby Jadotte 1-2, HR 2 R, 5 RBI. Cornelia Ehlebracht 1-1, R, RBI. Yasminia Haddad 1-1, 2B, 3 R.
▪ Doral 10, Killian 0: WP: Kassandra Machado. Gabriela Ruiz 2-2. Kassandra Machado 2-3. Ashley Jarquin 2-3.