Posted: 4:49 pm Saturday, April 28th, 2012

Softball: Jupiter rolls into historic regional final, and more notes 

By Jeff Greer

They’re coming off what might be the biggest win in program history, but the Jupiter Warriors asserted Friday night that the best is still to come.

“No chance, no way,” Jupiter coach Steve Ahern said when asked if there was any concern about an emotional letdown after his team dominated rival Palm Beach Gardens in an intense, high-pressure Class 8A regional semifinal. “We have way too much respect for this tournament and the teams playing in it. You don’t reach these rounds without being good. (Friday’s win) was a step in the process for a state championship.”

Jupiter ace Kylee Hanson (right) and second baseman Bri Rano celebrate Jupiter's historic win over rival Palm Beach Gardens.

Ahern’s bunch has been on fire now for eight consecutive games, outscoring opponents 49-6 and playing nearly flawless defense. That’s a significant sea change for a team that Ahern said earlier this year would need to win a lot of low-scoring affairs. Sure, the Warriors have ace Kylee Hanson (15-4), who has been unbelievable in recent weeks, but the offense started slow. Jupiter (22-6) was still getting results, but there was an on-going feeling that the postseason would test the Warriors’ bats.

They’re passing with flying colors so far.

Jupiter scored 20 runs in its two District 9-8A tournament wins, including the first of two complete, dominant wins over Gardens. Last night against the same Gardens team, Jupiter’s batters feasted on pitches away, scattering at least three of their five hits to the opposite field. That’s a dangerous weapon for any team to have against the quality pitching that teams have this far into the postseason.

“It comes back to us coming together as a group,” Ahern said. “They believe in one another, they believe something good will happen when they hit or when they take the field.”

Hanson added, “We’ve been hitting a lot in practice. A lot. And it’s exhausting, but it’s helped us so much. We’re so much more confident at the plate now.”

Now, Jupiter turns its sights to Cypress Bay, a team that has hovered in the honorable mention of the Miracle Sports state 8A poll all season, but will be the underdog on Tuesday night. Because both teams have hosted their first two rounds of playoffs, and Jupiter is on the top side of the bracket, the Warriors host Tuesday’s regional final. It’s the second regional final in the fast-pitch program’s history.

“We know it’s not over, we know we still have work to do,” Hanson said.

One step closer to a showdown. King’s Academy and American Heritage took care of business in a major way on Friday night, and now the former district rivals are one win away from an anticipated matchup in the state semifinals. King’s edged Heritage in the regular season last year to win the regular-season title, but Heritage got revenge in the district tournament en route to its Class 2A state championship.

Like Jupiter’s Hanson, King’s ace Aubree Murphy has been virtually unhittable in the first two playoff games. She’s struck out 20 batters, helping King’s to 12-2 and 9-1 victories. American Heritage has scored 23 runs in its first two games, and that lineup will be tough to handle the rest of the postseason.

Harrell’s march. Okeechobee has pulled off two upsets — at least according to the Miracle Sports state polls — to reach the 7A regional final. First, the Brahmans edged Sarasota 2-0. Sarasota made the 6A state semifinals last year. Then, Okeechobee knocked off Braden River 1-0. Braden River was the third-ranked 7A team in the state. The common thread in both wins? Okeechobee ace Sam Harrell. She’s struck out 16 and allowed six hits in both starts.

West Boca on track. I listed West Boca as a legitimate state-tournament contender, though it’ll be hard to get a state championship with Chiles in the same class, but the Bulls are right on track to Clermont. They’re one win away, with a very intriguing matchup with Cooper City on the way. Historically, Cooper City is a powerhouse, with a 2009 state championship and 47 state playoff games under its belt. Should be a good game in Boca Raton.

Sallen perfect, Grandview grooving. New year, same results so far. Grandview Prep is a win away from its third consecutive state-tournament trip. Jane Sallen, Grandview’s lefty ace, pitched a five-inning perfect game in the Pride’s 11-0 win over Master’s Academy on Friday. As long as Sallen is there, Grandview is a threat to win a state title, which has still eluded the Pride.

Regional final schedule
Admission is $7. All games at 7 p.m. Tuesday unless noted.

Class 8A
Cypress Bay at Jupiter
Class 7A
Tampa Chamberlain at Okeechobee
Cooper City at West Boca
Class 3A
King’s Academy at Sarasota-Cardinal Mooney, 4:30 p.m.
Miami-Westminster Christian at American Heritage
Class 2A
St. Petersburg-Canterbury at Grandview Prep,