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College Softball

Local trio reflect on prolonged senior seasons in college softball

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The NCAA Women’s College World Series was supposed to start today. Three former area standouts — Aliyah Andrews (East Lake/LSU), Cassidy Davis (Newsome/FSU) and Shannon Saile (Land O’ Lakes/Oklahoma) — all played for contending teams.

Instead of possibly finishing their college careers on softball’s biggest stage, the trio are at home watching replays of past World Series games after their senior seasons were cut short because of the coronavirus pandemic. 

The NCAA is allowing athletes in spring sports another year of eligibility. Rosters will be expanded to accommodate the addition — and retention — of so many players, particularly incoming freshmen and seniors who were supposed to be departing. 

All three local stars said they planned on returning, though none had any idea what kind of scholarship money they would be receiving. For the past three months, they have been at home, ready for a redux of their senior season. 

Last week, Andrews, Davis and Saile talked about their reactions once the season was canceled and what they have been doing to stay focused on softball — mentally and physically — once they return. 

Aliyah Andrews
Photo credit (including feature above: LSU Athletics

OF Aliyah Andrews

High school: East Lake

College: LSU

Andrews was in class when LSU coach Beth Torina sent a text to the team informing them they were not going to travel to South Carolina for the opening SEC series. 

The season was initially going to be interrupted for two weeks to deal with the virus. So the Tigers practiced that day in March instead of traveling. That was when Andrews and her teammates found out the season was canceled.

“I was very hurt,” Andrews said of the NCAA’s decision. “A lot of times we say that softball is what we do not who we are. But at that moment it felt like it was me, and I was softball. I couldn’t imagine what I was about to do without it, and not knowing what the future had in store for us was even harder.”

Andrews had plenty of family support. Her older sister A.J. starred at Countryside and LSU and became the first female to win a Rawlings Gold Glove. Her younger sister Athena also played at East Lake and will continue her sophomore season at Florida A&M.

Still, the ones Andrews relied on heavily to cope with the abbreviated season were the LSU seniors she played with all those years.

“(My sisters) were helpful and compassionate knowing it was my senior season that ended prematurely,” Andrews said. “I really leaned on my fellow senior teammates, though, the most. Just having those people who are going through it and who know the feeling helped with putting my emotions altogether because we were all feeling the same way.”

Andrews makes due by hitting off a tee into a net or having her sister or mother toss a heavy ball or wiffle ball in the front yard. As for glovework, Andrews usually fields ground balls and fly balls in the street because the grass is too thick. In the past weeks, the Clearwater Bullets travel organization has given the Andrews sisters access to its facility so they can hit in the cages.   

Cassidy Davis
Photo credit: Perrone Ford

P/UTIL Cassidy Davis

High school: Newsome

College: FSU

Davis was in a meeting. The Seminoles’ trip to Duke had already been called off. Word soon spread about the possibility of the World Series being canceled, too. Moments later, Davis saw an announcement from the NCAA. She read it to her teammates. 

No more games. No more season. 

“I was devastated,” Davis said. “I cried for hours.”

Davis still watches replays of games at home but it is not the same. 

“I watch because I miss the game as a whole overall, but it definitely has a bittersweetness to it,” she said. “I know where we would be right now and l would give anything to be in the postseason with my teammates right now.”

Before the season ended, Davis was FSU’s leader in home runs (five) and RBIs (22). The powerful slugger takes her swings by hitting into a net at her family’s home. She also has kept in touch with teammates regarding workouts. 

“I’m really excited to get back, just to see my teammates, friends, and coaches,” Davis said. 

Photo credit: OU Athletics

P Shannon Saile

High school: Land O’ Lakes

College: Oklahoma

Saile was at practice, working on her riseball, when Oklahoma coach Patty Gasso delivered the news about the season abruptly ending. 

“I think we were all confused at first,” Saile said. “We thought we might be out for two weeks, then it became the whole season. I couldn’t believe it. We were shocked. I think it took a few for it to even settle in.”

There were some positives. Saile planned to still be on campus this school year to finish her degree. Now, she will be able to do it while continuing to play. 

To prepare, Saile works out with former Land O’ Lakes pitcher Callie Turner, now at Tennessee. They throw off a makeshift mound in an area neighborhood designed by Gators assistant coach Vinny Guarracino. The rubber is made from pieces of an old tire. Home plate is assembled from wood. 

There are other workout items Saile has at her disposal, all courtesy of the Sooners. She has body bands, medicine balls and jump ropes. Oklahoma even sent her a diamond kinetic ball that can track the velocity, as well as the spin rate and direction, on each pitch. 

“It’s been a difficult year, but I think this is going to be a blessing in disguise,” Saile said. “We were going to be pretty good. We have a shot at winning it all.” 

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College Softball

Jessica Warren has the spotlight in inaugural softball league

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Diving catches have become a regular occurrence for Jessica Warren. 

Two years ago, the former Alonso standout made an acrobatic, full-extension grab from third base in the 2018 women’s College World Series.

That play not only helped FSU win its first national title but also put Warren in the national spotlight, even for years to come.

Last year, Warren became just the fourth female ever to win a Rawlings Gold Glove, joining former Countryside and LSU star A.J. Andrews on that exclusive list. Two months ago, ESPN’s 7-inning podcast crew voted Warren as the greatest third baseman to ever play college softball. 

All of that in large part to “the catch”. 

This past week, she did it again. 

In a scrimmage for the inaugural Athletes Unlimited softball league, Warren went all out, leaping for a catch from third base in a play that was a near facsimile of the one she made in the College World Series. 

Warren made other plays, too, so many that she was named one of four captains for the league’s opening games on Saturday. 

Her selection meant that she was able to draft a team from the league’s pool of 56 players. She even had a team named after her in a league that does not follow traditional formats. 

Teams  — and rosters  — change weekly. Players accumulate points based on individual and team performance. The top four scorers each week earn captain honors for the following week, and the right to draft players. 

Players are not just trying to win. They are vying for a top individual ranking much like tennis, which will be announced at the end of the five-week season. 

Warren is not the only local in the league. 

Andrews also was among the 56 players in the pool. She is playing for Team Pendley in the first week’s set of games. 

There are plenty of softball ties with the Andrews family. A.J.’s  two younger sisters, Aliyah (East Lake/LSU) and Athena (East Lake/Florida A&M) both have made a name for themselves in the sport, too. 

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College Softball

Shannon Saile headlines local group of FGCL all-stars

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The Florida Gulf Coast League finishes its five-week inaugural season with all-star game Saturday at the Lakewood Ranch softball complex.

Three former area standouts were selected as all-stars, headlined by Oklahoma’s Shannon Saile, who starred at Land O’ Lakes.

Saile (featured photo above courtesy of OU Athletics) spent the summer playing for the Bradenton Slice in the seven-team FGCL, the first league of its kind for college softball players. She was dominant, finishing first in strikeouts and third in ERA.

The other local selections were Megan Pierro (Steinbrenner/USF) and Neely Peterson (Cypress Creek/Santa Fe College).

FGCL All-Star Game

When: Saturday, noon

Where: Lakewood Ranch Softball Complex

Admission: $10

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College Softball

Devin Abraham joins IMG’s staff

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Devin Abraham, a star at East Lake and USF, has joined IMG Academy’s staff as a defensive backs coach. 

His father, Donnie, who played for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers from 1996-2001, was IMG’s defensive coordinator for two years (2015-16). 

This is the second former Pinellas County standout the Ascenders hired this week. On Monday, Shaun King, who gained notoriety quarterbacking Gibbs, Tulane and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, announced he was going to be the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at the powerhouse program

Devin had 19 interceptions in his high school career. As a senior in 2013, he helped lead East Lake to the state semifinals. He went to play at USF, where he made 37 starts in 46 games. His nine career interceptions with the Bulls is tied for fifth-best in program history.  

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