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Gulf Coast ready for postseason

Dustin Kent

Gulf Coast will open play in the FCSAA State Softball Tournament in Longwood on Thursday with a game against Indian River State at 6 p.m. Central Time.

It’s a return to the postseason after a one-year absence for the Lady Commodores, who were knocked out in the Panhandle Conference Playoff by Pensacola State in 2018.

That defeat fueled Gulf Coast’s run back to the postseason in 2019, with the Lady Commodores avenging last year’s loss by beating Pensacola State in the Panhandle Conference Playoff this year to clinch the league’s second spot in the tournament.

“Not going to state last year put a little chip on our shoulder,” sophomore second baseman Brianna Hill said. “We definitely grinded out every single game in conference to get here, so it’s big for us and a big deal for our school too.”

Hill is one of six sophomore starters for the Lady Commodores, four of whom played 47 or more games for Gulf Coast in 2018.

It’s a group that Lady Commodores coach Beth Wade said has set the tone for Gulf Coast all season.

“They’ve been a great group,” she said. “You know a lot of those guys played almost every inning last year for us and got a lot of experience and they wanted this. They wanted to go to state and they want to go to nationals. They’re hungry. They’ve provided great leadership all year.

“I would love nothing more than to take these guys (to the national tournament in St. George, Utah). It’s a fun group. They’re great to work with. We would love to keep them together for a few more weeks if possible.”

The journey begins for Gulf Coast against an Indian River State (34-15) squad it has yet to face this season. The Pioneers are the champions of the Southern Conference and will likely send sophomore ace Down Bodrug to the circle Thursday.

After playing 22 games in the Panhandle Conference, however, the Lady Commodores aren’t worried about facing anything in Longwood they haven’t already seen this season.

“With the conference season, plus we played a pretty tough non-conference season, we’ve seen as good of pitchers as we’re gonna see,” Wade said. “We’ve faced Florida Southwestern and Central Florida along with Chipola’s pitchers and Pensacola’s pitchers, so our hitters know what they’re getting into. They’re very confident going into the weekend.”

Gulf Coast will start freshman Hannah Poole, who leads the Lady Commodores this season in wins (20), ERA (1.55), shutouts (4), strikeouts (218), and innings (167).

She took both wins over Pensacola State in the Panhandle Playoff, though Wade said she believes the entire GC staff will be needed to go all the way at state.

“Hannah has been our workhorse down the stretch, but I fully expect it to be a team effort from a pitching staff standpoint,” she said. “Brittany Crowson will definitely get innings, and Alexa Shiver and Taylor Cochrane both had good innings for us down the stretch as well.

“I feel like for us to be effective it will take all of us at some point. Our four pitchers are all different in what they do, so there’s moments where you may need this over that and it’s definitely a place where it will take everybody.”

Gulf Coast will need to win at least three games before losing two in order to earn one of the two spots from the state in the national tournament, with the state championship game set for Saturday and the second-place game on Sunday.

For the sophomores who had to sit out the postseason altogether in 2018 after being ranked as high as No. 5 in the nation, getting to be one of the two teams that travels to St. George would be especially satisfying.

“Oh my god it would be amazing,” sophomore outfielder Sam Sisco said. “Just the fact that last year we weren’t able to go down there and this year we can and have a chance to win this thing, it means a lot. It would be so cool.”

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