This improbable season had the most unlikely ending.
But when it was over, the American Heritage softball team was back on top, defeating Land O’Lakes 5-1 for the Class 6A state championship at Historic Dodgertown on Thursday.
It was the Patriots eighth state title, which tied for second most in state history with Bartow. Naples leads the state with 10 championships.
“Putting in the news kids with all those who graduated took a while for them to collectively play ball,” American Heritage coach Marty Cooper said. “
This was a very scrappy team. We fired on all cylinders today and it’s tough to beat a team that is doing that.”
How the Patriots (21-8) reach and won another championship was nothing short of remarkable.
They had nine players, including five starters graduate from last years state runner up team that lost to Land O’Lakes 3-1. Freshman first-baseman Emily Legette drove in a pair of runs in a regional final against Rockledge to advance to the state tournament.
Then there was junior pitcher Julia Grobman who missed much of the season recovering
“I guess my adrenaline was a little to high coming into the game,” Grobman said. “I had to settle down and trust my teammates behind me.
Staying a head in the count was the most important thing. Winning the state title is really cool.”
Grobman (4-1) rejoined the team in mid-April after recovering from a broken femur and tibia in her left leg.
After allowing three hits and a run in the top of the second inning, Grobman retired 19 of the final 20 batters on the game to earn the victory. She finished with a four-hitter with four strikeouts.
“She was lights out and was hitting her spots,” Cooper said.
Heritage broke a 1-1 tie in the top of the second inning with a RBI single from Olivia Mason and Janai Conklin rounded the bases as the Patriots took a 3-1 lead.
“When we lost nine seniors last year many thought we wouldn’t return. I wasn’t sure because we didn’t have the best record to start the season. As we moved on we got better.”
Heritage added a pair of runs in the top of the fifth keyed by a RBI single from Kelly Torres. She finished the Patriots scoring by crossing home plate on an error for a 5-1 lead.
Katherine Rodriguez went 2-for-4 and RBI for the Patriots.
Land O’Lakes junior pitcher Callie Turner, who was the winner in last year’s title game against Heritage, yielded six hits and two earned run in Thursday loss.