Tori Rios started her career at Gulliver as a seventh-grader often catching the Raiders’ best pitchers in the bullpen.
Rios, now a junior, manages all of Gulliver’s softball games from behind the plate. And she isn’t a catcher opponents like to challenge on the base paths.
Delray American Heritage found out the hard way this past Friday when she threw out a runner at second to end the game and clinch Gulliver’s ticket back to the state final four.
“Not a lot of teams have run on her all season,” Gulliver coach Mark Schusterman said. “But her biggest strength is the way she runs the game with the pitchers. She’s developed into one of the best in the county and she’s stepped up big in the clutch.”
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Rios, who is committed to Lynn University, has been a part of Gulliver’s four consecutive state championships. The Raiders (23-6) will need her to be her usual self again if they hope to win a fifth in a row and tie Bartow for the state record for consecutive state championships (2002-06).
Gulliver’s bid begins Wednesday morning when it plays West Florida (27-1) in the first game of the tournament overall, a Class 4A state semifinal, at 10:35 a.m. at Historic Dodgertown in Vero Beach.
If Gulliver wins, it would face either Gainesville PK Yonge or Mulberry in the final Thursday at 11 a.m.
Rios is hitting .352 with 18 RBI and 10 doubles and has been pivotal in a leadership role a year after Gulliver graduated veteran standouts Ashley Leon and Stephanie Texeira.
With Rios behind the plate, senior Gabbee Draney has had another stellar pitching season. A Florida Gulf Coast signee, Draney is 18-4 with 150 strikeouts and a 1.50 ERA.
Gulliver’s primary concern Wednesday, however, is going to be Draney’s counterpart — West Florida senior lefty Korina Rosario.
An FSU signee, Rosario enters state with a 0.18 ERA and over 300 strikeouts.
“She throws hard and being a lefty makes her dangerous,” Schusterman said. “She’s a terrific athlete and she’s going to be a challenge for us. We’ve been working this week people throwing lefty at us.”
Schusterman compared Rosario to Fort Lauderdale St. Thomas Aquinas pitcher Meghan King, another tough lefty pitcher that will be at the state final four. Gulliver lost a game this season to Aquinas 2-0 with King pitching.
But Schusterman believes Gulliver’s tough schedule and experience will make a difference. Only two players on the Raiders’ roster have not won a state championship.
“We’re as prepared as we could be,” Schusterman said. “We’ve been there and we know what it’s like to win at that level.”