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Area football coaches hold spring practices virtually

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East Lake online practice

There is no bell signaling school has ended. After all, students in the state  — and nation  — are learning from home via virtual classrooms. Still, the East Lake football players knew to immerse themselves in the sport once their online courses were finished on Monday. 

They took their seats, opened their laptops and logged into Zoom meetings with their coaches. They talked about team philosophies. They analyzed video. They discussed formations and plays. 

Monday was supposed to mark the start of spring practice in football. That did not happen. The Florida High School Athletic Association canceled the month-long training session, along with the other spring sports, because schools remained closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Nothing changed for East Lake, at least with its practice schedule. On Monday, there was a team meeting for all players to kickoff the spring. That was followed by offensive, defensive and special teams sessions. 

East Lake virtual

There are no workouts on the field. No putting on the pads. No collisions. But the script remains the same for Eagles. There are two-hour weekday practices for the next month, only now everything is done in a virtual setting. 

“We wanted to get the players in a routine and create as much normalcy as possible,” East Lake coach Bob Hudson said. 

This is all new for Hudson, who is entering his 18th season.

“I’m old school,” he said. “I’m a text and email guy. I don’t even do anything with social media.”

The longtime coach took advice from others on getting acclimated to this new wave of technology. He talked to college coaches about what they were doing during the lockdown. He enlisted the help of assistants and family members to set up Zoom meetings. He got feedback from players once the online system was set up.

There were other adjustments, too. Hudson needed to make sure position coaches are teaching the same formations and plays on the same day. He had to figure out what meetings players who line up on both sides of the ball should attend. 

Another important detail is etiquette. Players must wear shirts during meetings. They have to mute any background noise or music. And they are required to raise hands before speaking to avoid any interruptions. 

“This is more than just football,” Hudson said. “This is about life lessons. When these guys get out into the real world and have jobs, they are likely to be in a lot of Zoom meetings. It’s the wave of the future. And they need to know what would be expected of them and how to behave in that type of setting.” 

For the players, the online classrooms are more than just teaching plays and formations. They also help them stay socially active and build camaraderie.   

“It was great to be able to see the whole team and hear from my coaches again,” said Eagles running back/defensive back Ryan Cunningham, who will be a rising senior. “I think that doing these virtual meetings is going to have a huge impact for our team on the mental aspect of things as we can still communicate and install ideas as if we were at school. With the spring season being canceled, it’s important that the whole team stays in communication because now is a very important time to get ahead of the curve.” 

East Lake might be the only area program sticking to the same spring schedule. Others, though, are still keeping contact with players this month on video chats. Mitchell already had its players doing home workouts for several weeks. And the Mustangs plan on holding position and coaches meetings via Zoom. Nature Coast sent daily cardio and bodyweight exercises for players to do Monday-Thursday. The Sharks’ staff also is constantly checking grades, contacting any player that falls below a C in any class. 

Jesuit coach Matt Thompson is not consumed in the virtual world. His players can watch game videos on their Hudl accounts. They can also work out on their own. But Thompson has no plans to hold mass online meetings. 

“It looks good. It sounds good, but there’s no real value in it for us,” Thompson said. “Plus, we already have kids taking final exams and spending their time with that.”

Clearwater Central Catholic, meanwhile, has been holding meetings since school was closed last month. The Marauders set up video conferences 3-4 times a week. On Mondays, the entire team gets together online. Sometimes there is even a special guest appearance. 

“It may be a waste of time, but kids need structure,” CCC coach Chris Harvey said. “I don’t know if it will make us a better team, but people come to CCC and get used to their time being used efficiently, and we didn’t want this to take that away. We don’t want to keep them for hours like we would with practice, but we do want them to understand what we are missing and try to minimize how that hurts us.”

The meetings with players are not the only virtual ones coaches are conducting this offseason. Many also are having video chats with college coaches to discuss potential recruits. Armwood coach Evan Davis said he was averaging about 4-6 a week, a number he expects to increase now that the NCAA has limited how much contact coaches can have with its own players while they are taking exams the next two weeks.

Armwood's Evan Davis
Armwood’s Evan Davis

“It’s a balancing act with all of this,” Davis said. “As coaches, we’re spending time with college guys and our players. And with the team, you want to keep them engaged but try not to overdo it with the online meetings.”

The conferences are not restricted to teams. Officials have been holding them, too. The Sunshine Football Officials Association, which covers mostly Pinellas and Pasco County schools, started conducting video sessions at the end of last season for officials to brush up on rules before the playoffs. They have had four more meetings this year.

Hudson knows there are still questions to be answered. How much football knowledge will the players retain?  Is there a risk of video burnout? That will require some tweaks to the system. 

“It’s all trial and error,” Hudson said. “What we want more than anything else is for the players to stay mentally focused and learn as much as possible so when we actually get back on the field we’re not starting from square one.”

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Time to vote: Softball player of the week

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Here are the nominees for the softball player of the week. Voting lasts through Tuesday. 

C Katie Bradbourne, Jr., Newsome: Went 3-for-4 with a homer and two runs scored in a 7A region quarterfinal win over Palm Harbor University. 

P Malia Connelly, Fr., Calvary Christian: Threw a five-hit shutout with four strikeouts in a 3A region win over Fort Myers Bishop Verot. 

UTIL Cat Durden, Fr., Pasco: Had two hits and drove in two runs in a 5A region quarterfinal win over Sumner. 

CF/INF/P Kendra Falby, Sr., Sunlake: Went 4-for-4 with a double, a triple, two RBIs and four runs scored in a win over Gaither in the 6A region quarterfinals. 

P/3B/CF Mia Fields, Fr., Land O’ Lakes: Threw a two-hit shutout with four strikeouts in a 5A region quarterfinal win over Seminole.

P/3B/2B Shannon Kendall, Fr., Seffner Christian: Threw a one-hit shutout with seven strikeouts and had a double, a homer and three RBIs at the plate in a 2A region quarterfinal win over Merritt Island Christian. 

C/3B Kadence Means, Jr., Wesley Chapel: Had two doubles, a homer and finished with six RBIs in a 4A region quarterfinal win over Dunedin. 

Pick the softball player of the week
Pick the softball player of the week
Pick the softball player of the week

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Softball: Tuesday’s region semifinal breakdown

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The softball playoffs continue with Tuesday’s region semifinal games. Admission is $7.  Here is the schedule with outlooks for each area game, as well as team leaders for each matchup.

Class 7A

Newsome (26-2) at Lakewood Ranch (25-1), 7

This is more like a state championship game. After all, both teams are ranked among the top three in the classification, the top five overall in the state and the top 12 nationally by MaxPreps. They met in the 7A-12 district final. The top-ranked Mustangs handed the Wolves their only loss of the season. Newsome rebounded by beating Palm Harbor University 7-6 in last week’s region quarterfinals. Trailing 6-3, the Wolves rallied with three runs in the fifth inning to tie it and  the winning run in the seventh to advance to the region semifinals and set up the rematch. Karley Shelton and Katy Bradbourne each homered and Samantha Walz scored two runs, including the winner in the seventh.  

Team leaders

CategoryNewsomeLakewood Ranch
Batting averageJadeyn Ruszkowski .522Cassidy McLellan .517
RBIsKarley Shelton 43Ella Coiner, Cassidy McLellan 31
Home runsKarley Shelton 12Ella Coiner, Cassidy McLellan 6
ERAMaria Brooks 0.55Olivia Laney 0.63
StrikeoutsKelsey Winters 171Olivia Laney 125

Class 6A

Sunlake (10-8) at Mitchell (20-6), 7

This is the third time the teams have met this season. The Mustangs won the previous two in convincing fashion, outscoring the Seahawks by a combined 19-3 in both contests. The last meeting, Mitchell jumped out to a 6-0 lead and cruised to a 6-1 victory in the 6A-10 district final. Vanessa Neptune led the Mustangs by going 2-for-3 with a double, three RBIs and two runs scored.  

Team leaders

CategorySunlakeMitchell
Batting averageKendra Falby .679Sydney Fowler .427
RBIsLarken Maseda 20Vanessa Neptune 23
Home runsLarken Maseda, Bella Sanchez 1Kinnah Kreidler 3
ERAMikayla Hoschak 3.50Ashley Altman 1.88
StrikeoutsMikayla Hoschak 66Sydney Fowler 99

Durant (25-3) at Bartow (17-2), 7:30

The Cougars are a combined 23-2 the past two seasons and enter the region semifinals on a nine-game win streak. That success is due in large part to an offense that is averaging 11 runs per game this year. Now comes the tough part. Durant faces the Yellow Jackets, who are ranked No. 2 in the classification and No. 4 overall in the state by MaxPreps. 

Team leaders

CategoryDurant Bartow
Batting averageShelby Allen .579Katelynn Oxley .402
RBIsEmily Smith 30Morgan Grubb 25
Home runsBricelyn Bedenbaugh, Emily Smith 4Morgan Grubb 5
ERAHaleigh Thomas 1.83Katelynn Oxley 0.75
StrikeoutsHaleigh Thomas 92Katelynn Oxley 281

Class 5A

Pasco (7-8)  at Auburndale (21-3), 7

After starting 2-6, the Pirates have won five of their last seven games, including victories over Wesley Chapel and Land O’ Lakes in the regular season and over Sumner in last week’s region quarterfinals. Mariah Bennett, Cat Durden and Kelsey Kadlub each had two hits against the Stingrays. The Bloodhounds, ranked No. 2 in the classification, have allowed just 22 runs all season. 

Team leaders

CategoryPascoAuburndale
Batting averageCat Durden .429Kassidy Pontbriant .431
RBIsKelsey Kadlub 16Johnkiria Bland 22
Home runsKelsey Kadlub 3Kassidy Pontbriant 3
ERALaci Carter 4.08Gena Stutz 0.59
StrikeoutsLaci Carter 32Gena Stutz 127

Land O’ Lakes (21-7) at River Ridge (22-5), 7

This is the third meeting between the rivals. The Royal Knights won the previous two, including a 5-3, nine-inning thriller in the 5A-5 district final. In that game, Katey Hauschen hit a walkoff, two-run homer. Both dominated their region quarterfinal games to set up another matchup. River Ridge beat Osceola 10-3 and Land O’ Lakes blanked Seminole 8-0. 

Team leaders

CategoryLand O’ LakesRiver Ridge
Batting averageNehanda Lewis .479Brooke Blankenship .556
RBIsNehanda Lewis 38Sophie Johnson 33
Home runsNehanda Lewis, Hannah Purcell 3Brooke Blankenship, Sophie Johnson 6
ERAMia Fields 1.64Jordan Sheets 1.68
StrikeoutsMia Fields 53Victoria Nearing 86

Class 4A

Wesley Chapel (13-13) at Hernando (23-4), 7

The host Leopards won the previous two matchups this season, beating the Wildcats 6-5 in eight innings two months ago and 9-0 in the 4A-9 district title game two weeks ago. Hernando reached double digits in hits in both games. The Wildcats have a powerful offense, too. They scored 12 runs to upset Nature Coast in the 4A-9 semifinals and 15 in a win over Dunedin in last week’s region quarterfinals. 

Team leaders

CategoryWesley ChapelHernando
Batting averageAshley Garrison .478Solaris Genberg .471
RBIsAshley Garrison 30Olivia Townsend 36
Home runsKadence Means 6Olivia Townsend 5
ERAGabriella Gonzalez-Villegas 3.80Ava Braswell 1.52
StrikeoutsMakenna Rice 40Ava Braswell 65

Robinson (23-4) at Lake Region (17-11), 7:30

Both teams are ranked among the top six in the classification by MaxPreps (the Thunder are No. 6 and the Knights are No. 4). Robinson has won 12 of its past 13 games. The offense is a big reason for that success. The Knights have reached double digits in runs in nine of those games. 

Team leaders

CategoryRobinsonLake Region
Batting averageJordan Stephens .544Raelyn Roland .420
RBIsDestiny DeHoyos 43Kaley Fail 19
Home runsDestiny DeHoyos 10Raelyn Roland 3
ERAAlyssa Boorom 2.60Alex Wright 1.58
StrikeoutsOlivia Van Zandt 66Alex Wright 94

Class 3A

Cypress Creek (16-5) at Lakeland McKeel Academy (19-7), 4:30

The big matchup will be Coyotes pitcher Hailey Vazquez, who has a 1.20 ERA and 165 strikeouts this season, going up against a Wildcats offense that is averaging more than nine runs per game and has scored a combined 41 runs in the last three contests. 

Team leaders

CategoryCypress CreekMcKeel Academy
Batting averageMandy Schwartz .531Charli Warren .559
RBIs Mandy Schwartz 26Kyndal Cornelius 44
Home runsMandy Schwartz 11Kerissa Howell 5
ERAHaley Vazquez 1.20Annalyse Torres 3.68
StrikeoutsHaley Vazquez 165Skyler Hodges 116

Calvary Christian (21-5) at Academy of the Holy Names (19-5), 7

This has turned into one of the most competitive rivalries in the area. The teams met three times already this season. The Jaguars hold a 3-2 in the series so far this season, though both wins were decided by a run, including a walkoff, sacrifice fly in the bottom of the seventh in the 3A-11 district final two weeks ago. 

Team leaders

CategoryCalvary ChristianAcademy of the Holy Names
Batting averageLeah Jarnac .642Rachael Petrarca .500
RBIsLeah Jarnac 37Camryn Feast, Annabelle Sardja 19
Home runsLeah Jarnac 5Rachael Petrarca 2
ERAMalia Connelly 2.12Keala Hollenkamp 1.47
StrikeoutsMalia Connelly 62Annabelle Sardja 73

Class 2A

Holy Trinity Episcopal (13-9) at Seffner Christian (17-6), 5

The Crusaders have on a roll, winning seven straight and 11 of their last 12. Defense and pitching are big factors in Seffner Christian posting shutouts in the last four games. Keeping the Tigers off the scoreboard could be tough considering they are averaging more than 10 runs per game. 

Team leaders

CategoryHoly TrinitySeffner Christian
Batting averageShea Dimmer .612Anna Burnside .492
RBIsShea Dimmer 41Amber Rodriguez 26
Home runsShea Dimmer 10Shannon Kendall 3
ERAShea Dimmer 3.48Shannon Kendall 3.03
StrikeoutsCali Perillo 67Shannon Kendall 113

Academy at the Lakes (17-4) at Canterbury (19-9), 6

This is the fifth straight time the teams have met in the region semifinals. The Crusaders won the first three en route to making the state semifinals. The Wildcats won the last two during their state championship seasons (2018-19). Canterbury enters as the No. 1 ranked team in the classification according to MaxPreps. 

Team leaders

CategoryAcademy at the LakesCanterbury
Batting averageMolly Blackwood .444Payton Cushman .438
RBIsMolly Blackwood 23Morgen Talley 36
Home runsMolly Blackwood, Juliana Ries 1Morgen Talley 12
ERAKatie Ferguson 2.62Mackenzie Bergstrom 2.18
StrikeoutsSydney Klein 59Morgen Talley 109

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Baseball

The PTP baseball players of the week

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The fans’ pick

P Trenton Hawks, Jr., River Ridge

The two-sport star’s right arm has been a big reason the Royal Knights made the playoffs in football and baseball this season. 

As a quarterback, Hawks threw for more than 1,000 yards and 12 touchdowns. 

In baseball, he became one of River Ridge’s most dependable starters on the mound.

Two weeks ago, Hawks threw a four-hit shutout with seven strikeouts in a 5A-6 district semifinal win over Freedom, then went 3-for-3 with an RBI and a run scored in a championship game win over Land O’ Lakes to take home the title.

Fans took notice. Hawks received more than 35 percent of the votes (218) to beat out Northeast’s Sean Melanson, who had more than 32 percent (203 votes). 

The PTP pick

P Sean Melanson, Sr., Northeast: Threw a one-hit shutout with seven strikeouts in a 5A-9 district semifinal win over Seminole that secured a playoff and eventually help the Vikings take home the title.   

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