7A State Softball Finals: Bartow Players Constantly Reminded of Storied Past
Fri. May 11, 2012 at 9:50 a.m. | By Solange Reyner
Bartow's Taylor Wagner (13) congratulates Shelby Duncan after scoring against George Jenkins Saturday afternoon during the District 7 class 7a championship game. Bartow won 4-0. (Photo by George Aycrigg | News Chief)
By SOLANGE REYNER
BARTOW | At every home game and practice, the girls on Bartow's softball team are reminded of the program's penchant for deep playoff pushes.
Signs of the seven state titles hang on the right side of the press box, which is painted orange to match part of the school's colors.
Etched on the back of the press box are the names of past players who competed at the collegiate level, one of them Lindsay Littlejohn, who won four state titles as the team's starting pitcher and played at the University of Florida.
The team's success has attracted fans, lots of them, and plenty of booster support.
At games, the stands are always packed, and there is a row of 30 chairs built into the concrete next to the team's dugout for super boosters (they pay $100 a season to sit there). The games are all announced on a local radio station, WWBF 1130 AM.
"Someone from Austria was listening the other night. They have such a huge following," Bruce Edmund, one of the announcers, said.
So the pressure, to say the least, is to get back to the Final Four every year.
"With our history of going there, sure there's pressure," coach Glen Rutenbar said. "But it's good pressure."
Bartow is there again this time and in a bit of unconventional fashion.
The Yellow Jackets, who face Tallahassee Lawton Chiles today at 7 p.m. at the National Training Center Softball Complex in Clermont in a Class 7A state semifinal game, replaced five starters from last year's state runner-up team at the start of the season.
Shortstop Tonee Febrizi is a freshman, and two others – first baseman Danielle Yost and second baseman DeeAn Davis – weren't full-time starters last year. Catcher Shelby Duncan, one of three seniors on the team, played in the outfield last year.
She's batting .500 with 29 RBIs.
Duncan knows Bartow's tradition well and is craving a title of her own. She also knows how hard it is to get back to the finals – a message she's relayed to the underclassmen.
"We've told them about the state tournament and that it's an experience, but that it could only happen once in your life so to just live in the moment," Duncan said.
"I told them to try not to think about the pressure – just do what you've done all year."
That point might be moot with pitcher Lauren West. She said she likes the pressure.
West, a junior who is sporting a 17-2 record and 1.40 ERA heading into the game, thrives on it. But she doesn't stress, win or lose, because "whoever plays the best game deserves to win," she said.
Bartow will rely heavily on West to get past Chiles, a nationally ranked team that has a lot of power on offense. Chiles (27-2) has 23 home runs on the season with 77 extra base hits. The team is ranked 21st in the nation according to ESPNU. Bartow is 29th.
"I've never seen them play so I'm getting stuff from what I hear and read," Rutenbar said. "It seems like they've got a lot of power but as a coach you have to worry about what you're going to do well. We'll adjust and Lauren will adjust if we need her to. She's good at that."
[ Solange Reyner can be reached at 863-802-7526 or email@example.com. ]