American Heritage will wield its weapons Friday in a Class 5A state semifinal matchup against Ponte Vedra, one of the most dominant teams in the Florida softball scene this season.
The Patriots (23-6) will face the undefeated Sharks (29-0) at 6:05 p.m. Friday at Dodgertown in Vero Beach.
Jenna Goodrich (11-2) and Madison Canby (11-4) lead the Patriots on the mound, while ace Avery Geehr, who pitched a two-hit shutout in a regional final victory, leads the Sharks.
“We know they are a good team; obviously, they are undefeated,” Patriots coach Marty Cooper said. “They have had a very good season, and we are expecting a very good, tough game. I know that their pitcher has had a very good year with a lot of strikeouts. Obviously, they have a pretty good defense because they aren’t giving up a lot of runs.”
The teams combined to allow one run in the regional round, but Heritage is one of just two teams in 5A to have scored at least 10 runs in each of its regional games.
“We went to [the] same round last year,” Cooper said. “I believe we are a little more mature as a team. We were pretty young last year. We are experienced this year with the regional playoffs and the run at states last year. I think we will be a little more settled in and comfortable.”
The Sharks are ranked No. 1 in Florida and No. 4 nationally by MaxPreps.
Cooper has coached five state championship teams during his tenure. The Patriots lost to state champion Creekside in the state semifinals last season.
“Last season, we went in and lost, and it was tough on us,” Canby said. “It didn’t feel good. I think we are coming into the game [Friday] more prepared. It’s obviously still the same mind-set, because it’s going to be a tough game. But we needed to work harder.”
Ashley Belans, an FIU signee, is hitting .512 this season with eight home runs and 36 RBI. Canby has four saves and one victory with 23 strikeouts in 15 innings this postseason. Goodrich has four wins and 17 strikeouts in 13 innings this postseason.
“We have two starting pitchers,” Cooper said. “Their styles are different. Whenever we take one out and put one in, it’s another major adjustment for the team that’s at bat. [Canby] throws a little harder than [Goodrich]. [Goodrich] has more off-speed [pitches]. One has more speed in her rise ball. One pitcher is more of a down pitcher, and the other is an up pitcher. It’s an adjustment for the batters.”
Cooper said he didn’t know which pitcher would start Friday’s game.
“We just need to prepare our mind-set so we know what to do when we go out there,” Canby said. “We are working a lot in practice about how to focus and working in the bullpen about protecting our spots.”