Pablo Plaza was an assistant coach for the Bishop Verot softball teams that reached the state semifinals in 2012 and 2013. From what he remembers about the 2013 club, it was a happy-go-lucky group of girls who were simply content to be in Vero Beach on the state’s biggest stage, excited to see their names in lights on the jumbotron at Historic Dodgertown.
The excitement of the experience overshadowed the early exit, a 4-2 loss to Madison County in a semifinal.
Just four players remain from that club and Plaza, now the Vikings head coach, said the group has sung a different tune during this year’s run to state. Now seniors, Erin Kyle, Jessy McLean, Jennie Boisvert and Gillian Takais made a commitment to being the last team in Class 4A standing come Thursday evening, which means bringing home the program’s first state championship.
In their eyes, the just-happy-to-be-there teams will end up going home early.
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“In past years, getting there was an accomplishment,” said Plaza, whose team will face Jacksonville Trinity Christian (16-10) in a semifinal at 3:35 p.m. Wednesday. “Their goal from Day 1 has been to win state. This time the girls are hungry. When you’re hungry you work for it.”
At the beginning of a season where Verot eventually went 19-9 and cruised to its fourth region title in seven years, the seniors evaluated their situation. They understood Verot had the talent necessary at every position to win a state crown. It was only a matter of getting everyone to sacrifice individual glory for the greater good.
“We’re always trying to put the little things together to create one big thing,” Takais said.
The Vikings are hitting .312 as a team led by Boisvert (.414, 16 RBI) and sophomore Tayli Filla (.378, 14 RBI). Meanwhile, Kyle has been reliable in the circle, going 8-3 with a 2.50 ERA and 52 strikeouts.
Despite not playing in the Final Four in three years, Verot has the most state experience in the game as Trinity notched its first semifinal berth since 2005 with a 4-2 win over Tallahassee Florida High in the Region 4A-1 final last week.
For Kyle and McLean, playing on the big stage is what they live for.
“Playing at state is like a play,” Kyle said. “(The actors) are waiting on opening night, and we’re waiting on our opportunity.”
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“This is what you dream of as an athlete,” McLean said.
The Vikings are fully prepared for moments Wednesday when the ball doesn’t bounce their way. Whether they let those moments consume them or simply move on to the next pitch will go a long way in determining whether they are champions or not.
“Right now, I’m only focusing on that first pitch, that first out, that first at-bat Wednesday. We’re not looking to Thursday,” she said. “That’s how we’ve built this and proved ourselves all season.”
And Verot isn’t going to stop now.
IF YOU GO
What: FHSAA Class 4A state softball championships
When: May 4-5
Where: Historic Dodgertown in Vero Beach
Schedule: Wednesday — Bishop Verot vs. Jacksonville Trinity Christian, 3:35 p.m.; Montverde vs. Miami Westminster Christian, 4:50 p.m. Thursday — Final, 4:45 p.m.
Tickets: $9 per session