Viera softball a win away from Final Four
Hawks fall to Sarasota 4-1
UPDATE: It’s wait-until-next-year time again for the Hawks, who lost to Sarasota 4-1 last week.
Kaitlyn Jensen tripled on the top of the fourth to drive in a run for Viera, but with a runner on third and just one out, the Hawks couldn’t break through.
And after playing nearly flawless defensively up until the Class 7A regional final, the Hawks made some uncharacteristic mistakes that led to their season-ending loss.
Viera finished the season with a 26-5 record.
While Viera will lose catcher Ashley Dehn and center fielder Delaney Goff to graduation, they expect to have everyone else back, which should make them a contender again in 2016.
The road to what the Viera Hawks hope will be their first trip to the Final Four of the state softball playoffs has already taken them to Fort Myers and Punta Gorda.
Next stop, Sarasota.
Viera (26-4) will face Sarasota (23-7) Friday night at 7 in the Class 7A regional final. The winner will earn a spot in the Final Four.
While making a long bus ride to play on another team’s field can sap some of the energy out of some teams, the Hawks have thrived on it this postseason.
Viera beat Fort Myers – ranked No. 2 in the state in 7A – 2-1 in the regional quarterfinals. Then on Wednesday, they blew out Charlotte 11-0 in the regional semifinals.
“The biggest thing that’s impressed me is how they’re traveling,” Viera coach Dale Pierce said. “I’ve never seen a team that’s had to go as far as we’ve had to go two games in a row and get off the bus, warm up and be ready to play when they hit the clay.”
Kaitlyn Jensen went 4-for-4 and hit two home runs to help the Hawks beat a Charlotte team that had defeated Melbourne 1-0 in the previous round.
Jensen’s two-run home run highlighted a five-run third inning for the Hawks, who also got RBI contributions from Sydney Brooks, Delaney Goff and Kiana East in that inning.
Hailey Hinz would later add a three-run homer.
“We came out (Wednesday) night and hit the ball harder than we’ve been hitting it all year,” Pierce said. “We’ve been hitting it all right, but we’ve been a little stagnant here and there – especially after spring break. But now, they seem to be coming back into it at the right time, hitting pretty well.”
Add that to the pitching of East and some strong defensive play and it’s easy to see why Viera was rated No. 1 in the state in 7A, No. 15 in the country earlier this season.
East has been having a phenomenal year, both on the mound and at the plate. She leads the team with a .434 average and with 40 hits is just five shy of tying the program record for most hits in a season. Four of those hits have been home runs and she also has 13 doubles and 25 RBIs.
On the mound, the junior is 17-4 with a 1.35 ERA and 115 strikeouts.
“She’s been such a key to this whole thing,” Pierce said. “The biggest thing that’s happened with Kiana, she’s matured. She understands the game so much more.”
East isn’t the only player who is developing beyond her class level. Jensen, a 5-foot-10 ½ sophomore shortstop, has six home runs and 25 RBIs on the year. She also qualified for the state track meet, where she will compete in the shot put and discus on Saturday.
Hinz, who has 38 hits – including two doubles and two home runs – is third on the team in batting average at .387, trailing only East and Brooks, who is hitting .391.
After a season in which they had plenty of talent, but also plenty of internal strife, the Hawks have been enjoying a tremendous season thanks in large part to the leadership of team’s only two seniors – catcher Ashley Dehn and center fielder Delaney Goff.
Now, the chance to make program history is just another long bus ride away.
“This group here is special,” Pierce said. “They’ve bonded together. We had a little bit of controversy last year and they’ve bounced back from that with a vengeance. I mean, it’s just been crazy.
“I told them (Wednesday) night, ‘I couldn’t be more proud of the way you guys have come together as a team and are really getting it done.”