Last week, for the first time in 11 months, the Cooper City Cowboys softball team played a game.
It was just an exhibition, but it still felt good for the Cowboys, who were 7-0 and No. 1 in the state in Class 6A when the pandemic shut everything down last year.
“I love our high school spirit,” Cowboys shortstop Kirsten Caravaca said. “High school softball has always been fun and exciting because of the bond we have with each other.
“It felt good to be back [last week], but I also felt nervous because we haven’t practiced much. The preseason felt rushed.”
Practice around much of the state opened Jan. 18, but Cooper City and other local teams weren’t allowed to resume until Jan. 28.
Even so, Cowboys coach Phil Schmalz said it was a “satisfying feeling” to return to the field.
Schmalz won a Class 6A state title in 2009, his first season at Cooper City. Since then, however, the Cowboys haven’t made it past the state semifinals.
The Cowboys are still in 6A, and Schmalz feels good about his team for several reasons. For starters, Lakewood Ranch, which eliminated the Cowboys from the state semifinals in 2019, moved up to 7A last year, out of Cooper City’s path.
Secondly, except for three graduated seniors, the Cowboys bring everyone else back, including Caravaca and pitcher/first baseman Jordyn Hustey, both juniors.
Schmalz believes this team has more speed and depth than the one in 2009. But the 2009 team had a star pitcher in Corinne Clauss, who went on to play for Providence College.
Hustey, who went 4-0 with a 1.08 ERA last year, has similar potential as a pitcher. She is also an outstanding slugger, hitting .524 with four homers in just seven games.
“It’s been great to see Jordyn’s progression since her freshman year,” Schmalz said. “Back then, she threw hard but didn’t have much movement. She would miss her spots and leave too good a strike.
“Last year, she got faster, about 61 to 63 mph, with more movement, and she learned to manipulate the strike zone.
“Offensively, she can hit the ball 225 to 250 feet, and most softball fields are only 200 feet.”
As for team speed, Schmalz said left fielder Mia Kotzen is one of the fastest players in the county.
It all adds up to a potentially happy year — unlike 2020.
“Last year, was annoying,” Caravaca said. “We knew we had a chance to go to state, and when they canceled the season, we were devastated. I complained about it 24/7.
“This year, there are big things coming for us.”
THIS AND THAT
▪ West Broward coach Greg Hodges said his team is a contender for a state title in Class 7A. The Bobcats, who reached the regional finals in 2019, have four players who have already signed with colleges: pitchers Victoria Navarro (Miami Dade College and Kylee Graham (Ave Maria); and catchers Camille Graham (Ave Maria) and Macalyla Brady (Florida Southern). The Graham girls are twins.
▪ Doral Academy has an impressive senior catcher in Amanda Ramirez, who in eight games last season blasted six homers while batting .543 with 13 RBI. Doral was 7-3 and ranked 24th in the state, regardless of class, when last season was canceled.
▪ Lourdes coach Angel Torres quit the team on the morning of the tryouts, according to assistants Juan Perez, who now runs the team. Perez brought in Luis Perdomo as his assistant. Senior catcher Adriana Perez, Juan’s daughter, threw out seven runners trying to steal last year. She also hit .375 and stole five bases.
▪ Gulliver has standouts such as junior pitcher Ajah Mallory (4-0, 1.62 ERA), junior shortstop Andrea Delgado (.556 batting average) and senior infielder Alyssa Jensen, who missed the 2020 season due to injury but has committed to Keiser University.
▪ Varela coach Harley Tekerman said five of her team’s 2021 players were in band previously. “When band was dropped (due to COVID), the band members traded in their clarinets for softball cleats,” Tekerman said.
▪ Three of Palmer Trinity’s top six players are either sixth- or seventh-graders, and this team deserves an Emmy. Here’s why: its top pitchers are sophomore Emme Fundora and sixth-grader Emmy Cerda.
▪ South Plantation is led by senior shortstop Grace Sobeck, senior third baseman Sydney Creary, senior outfielder Kaylah Leslie and senior Ali Blondin.
▪ Western, which went 7-3 last season, has a team strong on pitching and defense. Senior pitcher Alyssa Solo leads the way.
▪ Westminster Christian is powered by senior infielder Hailey Donovan.
▪ American Heritage is led by sophomore first baseman Emily Legette.
▪ Pembroke Pines Charter and first-year coach Delvin Pascual are led by senior Stephanie Gonzalez, a power-hitting shortstop with a strong arm. She has committed to the University of South Alabama.
▪ Florida Christian is led by freshman shortstop/catcher Sam Zelenka.
▪ Pine Crest is building with a pair of freshmen: pitcher Lindsey Eldridge and catcher Alicia. Marzouca.
▪ Senior catcher Deborah Eusebio is the only Coral Gables player back from the girls who reached state with the Cavaliers two years ago.
▪ Calvary Christian is led by senior outfielder Alexa Gonzalez, who is known for her cannon arm and diving catches. She also had a two-homer game.
▪ South Dade, which went 0-10 last season, is rebuilding behind freshman catcher Victoria Ormaza.