Nearly the entire Mustangs’ starting lineup will be back next season along with three experienced pitchers
The season did not end the way the Lakewood Ranch High softball team expected it to.
It did not end with a celebration.
It did not end with gold medals.
It did not end with the state championship trophy.
The Mustangs’ season ended with a 3-0 loss to Winter Springs in the Class 8A final at the Jackie Robinson Training Center at Historic Dodgertown Friday night.
As much as the first 30 games of the season provided jubilation and triumph, the final game will leave a bitterness that will be used as fuel for next season.
It was the second time in as many seasons Lakewood Ranch (30-1) was blanked by a junior right-handed pitcher in its final game of the season.
Last year, it was Orange Park Oakleaf’s Madisyn Davis, who pitched a 1-0 gem over the Mustangs in the state semifinal.
Friday, it was the Bears’ Aynslie Furbush, who spun a one-hit shutout.
Lakewood Ranch had scored fewer than three runs in only one of its previous 30 contests — a 2-0 win in 14 innings over Gainesville. So the effort by Furbush, who allowed six runs in seven innings to Oakleaf in the semis the day before, was extraordinary.
Ranked first in the country during the second half of the season, Lakewood Ranch has continued reason for optimism. Of the starting position players, third baseman Maddie Koczersut is the only senior. On the four-person pitching staff, only Kayla Howard graduates. Emily Hughes, Abby Misiura and Maddie Schaefer are the only other seniors on the 20-player roster.
“We’ve got a pretty good nucleus. Just about the whole starting lineup is coming back,” Mustangs second-year coach T.J. Goelz said. “We’ll get back to work.”
Last year’s HTPreps Player of the Year Avery Goelz, T.J.’s daughter, and reigning HTPreps Player of the Year Claire Davidson, return in the middle of a power-packed lineup.
Experienced pitchers Brooklyn Lucero, Payton Kinney and Davidson also will be back. Along with the rising seniors, freshmen and sophomores who played meaningful innings on the finest team in program history.
“They got a taste of what it’s like,” Coach Goelz said. “Now I know they are going to be as hungry as the other kids this year. Look out next year. We’re going to come back loaded.”
The Mustangs made it to the State Final 4 three previous times, scoring just one run in three semifinal losses.
Obstacles, like Furbush, will remain.
In reality, one bad inning, the fourth when Winter Springs (31-0) scored all three of its runs, marred a spectacular season.
“Next year we just need to finish it,” said Davidson, a transfer from Virginia. “We went 30-0 and we couldn’t pull out the final game. We just need to stay focused all the way through.”
The Mustangs already have their rallying cry for next season.
“Their hunger level will be off the charts,” Coach Goelz said. “They’re not gonna want to leave high school without getting that feeling right there, without that ring, without hoisting that trophy, without getting that dogpile like we just saw. We’re going to work hard for that. We’re going to tell them to remember it.”