As one of the few juniors on last year’s team, Jill Healy was sometimes razzed by her older teammates on the St. Thomas Aquinas softball team.
“All the seniors would tell me they felt bad for me,’’ Healy recalls. “They said ‘it’s going to be your senior season and you’re not going to have anyone.’ We thought it was going to be rough but over time, things definitely got better.’’
Well, one year later – and with a drastically different lineup – Healy and the Raiders are headed back to the state softball finals.
Aquinas, the Class 7A two-time defending champion, opens play in Vero Beach on Wednesday afternoon just two wins from another title.
Healy and the rest of the softball community certainly didn’t see this coming.
“We had seen a lot of these girls practice for a year or two so we knew what they were about, what they could do,’’ said coach Bryan Baucom, who had to replace seven starters – including his star-studded battery of catcher Gwen Svekis (now at Oregon) and pitcher Meghan King (FSU).
“We had a foundation but have had to tweak our lineup about 14 times because of injury or just trying to find things that worked. But right now I feel really good. We sat here on January 28 and knew there would be bumps in the road. But it was what happened after April 17 that really mattered.’’
The Raiders (22-6) head to Vero riding in high style with five consecutive runaway victories. Since losing to Douglas, which is in the Class 8A semifinal for the first time in the school’s 25-year history, Aquinas has mercy-ruled its final five opponents by the combined score of 72-0.
Things will be tougher in Vero Beach, for sure. If the Raiders survive Sarasota on Wednesday, they likely get Cantonment Tate in the finals.
“It was hard to predict how we would do after losing seven starters, seniors who were a key part to our success,’’ outfielder Thais Gonzalez said. “A lot of people have really stepped up their role. I think you saw the older players who were around last year kind of lead the team. Now the younger players are doing it.’’
With King off playing in Tallahassee, junior Brooke Stock has stepped into the role of ace Aquinas pitcher.
When Olivia Saviskas got hurt just before the district tournament began, Stock (11-1) took over and has yet to give up a run.
“We’re definitely feeling confident,’’ Stock said. “I wouldn’t say I was looking forward to being in this role, but I was excited for it. This is fun, a great experience. With Meghan leaving, it’s a big responsibility. It has been passed on. I’m no Meghan King, but we’ve gotten the job done so far.’’
King, in town to see family last week, stopped by Aquinas’ 10-0 victory over West Boca and offered plenty of support. Although Stock admittedly wasn’t her sharpest, the Bulls didn’t plate a single run and only mustered one hit.
For Aquinas to come home with another state trophy, Stock will likely have to continue mowing down one batter after another. Saviskas is expected to be ready for the final four.
“We’re going to Vero Beach and a big reason why is Brooke Stock stepped up and became a big-time pitcher for us,’’ assistant coach Joe Casacci said. “She’s good enough to win a championship. She’s developed into that kind of player.’’
4-8A semifinal: Columbus at South Dade, 7
4-8A semifinal: West Broward at Flanagan, 7
3-8A semifinal: Taravella at Douglas, 4
4-7A semifinal: Nova at St. Thomas Aquinas, 7
4-7A semifinal at Deerfield Beach: Royal Palm Beach vs. Monarch, 7
4-6A semifinal at Coral Gables: Mater Academy vs. Doral, 3:30
4-6A semifinal at Flamingo Park: Jensen Beach vs. Pines Charter, 7
4-5A semifinal: Archbishop McCarthy at American Heritage, 7
4-4A semifinal: St. Brendan at Gulliver, 4
4-4A semifinal: Delray American Heritage at Calvary Christian, 4
4-3A semifinal: Palmer Trinity at Westminster Christian, 4
4-2A semifinal at Florida Memorial: Miami Christian vs. Brito, 3:30
4-2A semifinal at TBA: Boca Raton Christian vs. Sheridan Hills/Zion Lutheran winner, TBA
State play-in: South Broward at Mourning, 7
State play-in: Boca Raton at Monarch, 7
State play-in: Cardinal Gibbons at Archbishop McCarthy, 5
State play-in: Miami High at Columbus, 7
State play-in: Southwest at Palmetto, 7
State second round play-in: Everglades at Monsignor Pace, 7
State second round play-in: Taravella at Boyd Anderson, 7