NEWS MEDIA CONTACT:
Contact: Mark DeCotis, Athletic Communications
EFSC's Road to State Softball Tournament a Team Effort
May 2, 2014 - The beauty and beast of junior college athletics is every two years a coach sees his or her roster undergo a nearly complete makeover.
Despite the turnover the mission remains the same: win and advance to the postseason. And that's something Eastern Florida's softball team has done, advancing to the Florida College System Activities Association State and NJCAA Region 8 Tournament for 10 straight seasons.
This year Eastern Florida qualified for the state tournament with a team of 13 freshmen and only four sophomores, all starters meaning the Titans had five tenderfoots on the field in every game.
Not to worry. The Titans coaches weren't concerned heading into the season and made that clear from the get go.
"It's out there in the industry that if you've got a team of freshmen you can't win," Titans assistant coach Bob Yanczewski said before the season. "Well somebody's going to be shocked this year because Eastern Florida has a bunch of freshmen but we're a seasoned group of freshmen."
And while the Titans missed the mark of achieving their seventh straight winning season – finishing at 23-25 – they will be one of the 16 teams in the state tournament and not one of the six staying home.
And there's no real secret to the run of success other than recruiting players who fit with the Titans way of doing things and having those players every year receive counseling and encouragement from those who have been there before.
"Our sophomores last year engrained in our minds that the goal was to the state tournament," said Titans sophomore right fielder Bri Seaman. "We tried to do the same thing for the freshman this year."
And obviously they were successful.
Eastern Florida finished third at 8-8 in the FCSAA Southern Conference, which is home to the nation's No. 1 team – Indian River State College – and Miami Dade College, which tied Indian River for the regular season title at 12-4.
But that was then and this is now and everyone is at 0-0 as Yanczewski said of the double elimination tournament.
Eastern Florida opens play at noon Central time on Saturday in Pensacola against the College of Central Florida and will play either Indian River or Seminole State College at 5 p.m. Central time, also on Saturday.
But who the opponent is doesn't really matter. As head coach Ed Yanes has preached throughout his 11-year tenure, his teams play the ball not the other uniform.
To that end Yanes, Yanczewski and assistant coach Kim Overbey will look to sophomores Seaman, a second-team all-conference selection and classmates and first-team all-conference picks Devin Williams (also second-team all state), Manya Lopez and Brooke Formby to continue to provide the leadership and offensive prowess they have displayed all season.
But they also will be counting on the freshmen who have matured over the 48-game season to claim their positions in the starting lineup or to contribute off the bench.
"Having four sophomores . . . they said we can't win, we couldn't win heading into the season but we took our lumps but we battled," Yanes said.
And now the Titans reached their first goal, reaching the state tournament.
"It's important to every athlete because every athlete is chasing the ring, they want to make it to state," said Lopez who played the majority of the season at shortstop but also filled in at catcher where she played most of the 2013 season.
Formby divided the pitching duties with freshman Dajia Jones, also a first-team all-conference pick, while Williams anchored the outfield in center and Seaman in right.
Formby played left field when Jones pitched and had an exceptional season at the plate, ranking sixth nationally in triples with seven and 34th nationally in hits with 71. As a pitcher she ranked 44th in innings pitched (143).
Formby also finished as the Eastern Florida leader in triples; hits, 71; total bases 91; batting average, .420; on base percentage, .437; slugging percentage, .538; and tied for most extra base hits, 13.
Given her performance, what would it take for Formby to be satisfied with her season?
"Having good stats is great," she said. "But me being on and helping out my team and getting an RBI when we need, sacrificing myself during the state tournament is what would really make me satisfied.
"Giving all I can and doing as well as I can at the state tournament because that's what really matters."
Eastern Florida had a brief, two games and out stay at the state tournament in 2013, losing back-to-back 2-1 decisions, something the sophomores haven't forgotten, something that has stuck in their collective throats.
"We want to win," Lopez said.
Freshmen who worked their way into the starting lineup were Dajia Jones on the mound and at third base and first base, Kaitlyn Ortagus at first base, Gabby Jones at second, Hannah Denny at third base and pitcher, Shelby Nazworth behind the plate, Harlee Gadley in left field, Fallon McLaughlin at second base and Sara Vicente behind the plate.
Also Destiny Smith, Yesi Moreno, Mackenzie Post, and Kya Tucker.
In total it was a team effort.
"The coaches have done everything they can to allow us to do the best we can, to improve us both as individuals and as a team," Williams said.
"The fact we're going for the 10th season in a row is really an accomplishment and the fact that we were able to keep that going when everyone thought that wasn't going to happen because of how many freshmen we were going to have and we able to prove everyone wrong.
"I think it's a big deal . . . it's just a good feeling and I'm very proud of everybody, very proud."