Hardy

Crystal River softball second baseman Cara Hardy fields a ground ball May 14 at home against Belleview in a regional semifinal contest. The Pirates won district and regional titles and will play in the Class 6A state semifinals Thursday at Vero Beach.

Two more wins, but one game at a time.

The Crystal River softball team needs two victories this week at the State Championships in Vero Beach to claim the Class 6A crown, but the Pirates know they need to put all of their focus on Thursday’s semifinal against Rockledge.

“We preach to our girls, it’s one game at a time. We know we need to be able to hit the ball and we know Jaden (Vickers) will give us a chance in the circle. Keep their runs low and play solid defense,” Crystal River head coach Deon Copeland said. “I think we have a great opportunity to advance through the first game. Then we’ll focus on the second game.”

Getting to this point has been far from easy for the Pirates, with extra-inning wins over Springstead and Citrus in the district tournament and a 10-inning victory over Belleview in the regional semifinals.

“We talked to the girls that the teams are only going to get better,” Copeland said. “The pitching’s going to get better, the hitting’s going to get better. So we have to improve each day and focus on being able to play the kind of ball we play. Being able to hit the ball and with Jaden pitching strong, that gives us a chance.”

Sebring and Ridgeview play in the first 6A semifinal today at 11:05 a.m., followed by the Pirates and Rockledge at approximately 12:20 p.m. The winners will battle for the title Friday at 12:35 p.m.

“I think they’re a lot like we are. They have the potential to put the ball down in crucial situations and have a little bit of power,” Copeland said of Rockledge, which defeated defending state champion American Heritage to reach the Final Four. “They’re pretty quick, so we hope we’re able to offset that with the things we put into play and make a pretty good game out of it.

“You find tendencies. What the girls like to do, where they hit the ball. That does say a lot.”

Vickers has recorded 72 strikeouts in five postseason games, but knows she can’t be content relying on the same pitching style every game.

“I’m going to have to work on hitting my inside spots, because I have been mainly staying on the outside of the plate, which can hurt me,” she said. “If that’s where I stay and that’s all they work on and they catch that, then what am I going to do? So I’m going to try to work levels on my rises and inside pitches.”

This is the first trip to the Final Four for a Crystal River softball team since 1997, when the Pirates lost 6-1 to Lake Region in the Class 4A state semifinals.

“It’s just a crazy feeling. It’s overwhelming and exciting, because we haven’t done it since 1997,” junior catcher Caliann Rogers said. “It’s an exciting feeling and I’m so ready to play. And since we made it this far, I know we can win.”

Senior Aleeah Ashmeal, in her first year as a full-time varsity starter, is enjoying her final high school softball ride.

“It’s crazy. Going from last year not playing, but still being able to see us go to the Elite Eight, but now actually being in there and able to go to the Final Four. ... It’s crazy. Mind blown,” she said.

Prep Zone - Get updates and player profiles ahead of Friday's high school games, plus a recap Saturday with stories, photos, video Frequency: Seasonal Twice a week

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Contact Chronicle Sports Editor Matt Pfiffner at 352-564-2989 or mpfiffner@chronicleonline.com.

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