• Lexi White connects for Peniel Baptist Academy in last Tuesday’s 12-2, Region 1-2A championship victory over Christ’s Church. (FRAN RUCHALSKI / Palatka Daily News)
  • Peniel coach Jeff Hutchins huddles with the Warriors during last Tuesday’s regional final. (FRAN RUCHALSKI / Palatka Daily News)

FHSAA 2A State Semifinal Softball: One Tall Order for Warriors

Defending state champion sends 6-foot-1 Alabama signee against Peniel Baptist in its Final Four debut

To say this would be a daunting task for the Peniel Baptist Academy softball team would be an understatement.

“She’s 6-foot-1, throws 60 mph with a dropball that’s her main strikeout pitch and she’s committed to play at the University of Alabama,” Peniel Baptist Academy coach Jeff Hutchins said. “We thought facing (current University of Florida pitcher) Elizabeth Hightower two years at Aucilla Christian was tough, but this girl beat her last year in the state final and it took her 11 innings to do that.”

The girl in question is senior Lexi Kilfoyl for Academy At the Lakes School. She’s the big obstacle for the Warriors moving on to the Florida High School Athletic Association 2A championship game. The Warriors face Kilfoyl and the 17-7 Wildcats at 10:35 this morning at the Jackie Robinson National Training Center in Vero Beach. If the Warriors can find a way to uproot Kilfoyl and the defending state champion Wildcats, they will face either Bell Glade Glades Day (9-7) or Mount Dora Christian (25-4) in the state title game at 11:05 a.m. Wednesday.

All Kilfoyl did last Tuesday was make host Naples Seacrest Country Day School look small in the Region 3-2A title game. Kilfoyl tossed a no-hitter, walking one batter and striking out 15 in a 2-0 victory. Vanessa Alexander knocked in Devyne Davis with an RBI single in the second inning and Jessica Mott added the insurance in the sixth inning with a solo home run.

But when it comes to the Wildcats, the talk starts and ends with Kilfoyl, whose 6-foot-7 brother, Darin Kilfoyl, pitched for St. Johns River State College the last two seasons and has signed with North Florida.

Lexi Kilfoyl outdueled Hightower, 1-0, in 11 innings last year. Kilfoyl (13-2) allowed four hits, walked one and struck out 13, while Hightower, who Peniel (21-4) had the bad luck of facing twice in three years in regional tournament openers, allowed four hits, walked two and struck out 15. It was Kilfoyl delivering the RBI single in the 11th inning got the only run.

“We’re facing a giant,” Hutchins said. “She has a rise ball and a drop ball, and for us to be in it, we’re going to have to play small ball the first few innings and see what we can do with the bunt and make the other eight players on the field do something.

“There’s no doubt, I compare this to David and Goliath,” Hutchins added. “They are the defending state champions and Kilfoyl is one of the top players in the country. But these girls have seen it all the last few years between Hightower, Abigail Morgan (Aucilla Christian’s other hard-throwing pitcher, now at FAU) and Brianna Enter at (Orange Park) St. Johns Country Day, who is signed to play at Florida State next year.”

The last two practices, the Warriors cranked the speed up on the pitching machine and moved it close to home plate to give the players an idea of what they’re going to face.

The Warriors breezed to the school’s first FHSAA regional championship and first Final Four appearance, outscoring Region 1-2A rivals Tallahassee FAMU and Jacksonville Christ’s Church by a count of 28-2.

Sophomore Paige Bryan (16-5) will get the start for the Warriors, but she’s been pitching under duress over the last month due to a nagging hip injury that resurfaced in last week’s 12-2 regional championship win over Christ’s Church, where she struggled to get through the fourth inning. Her team’s flawless defense got the job done with no errors.

“Paige has been doing her exercises and stretching,” Hutchins said. “She had some discomfort during the week and we’ll see how she is once we get her out there. She’s been a trooper so far.”

The Warriors’ softball team is the 12th Putnam County squad to reach a state Final Four in the last 35 years since Palatka lost to Titusville, 28-21, in the FHSAA 3A state football title game on Dec. 16, 1983.

Since then, four Palatka High boys basketball teams (2011, ‘13, ‘17, ‘18), one PHS girls basketball team (1994), both the PHS baseball (2008) and softball (2006) squads, two Crescent City High volleyball clubs (1986, 2011) and one Crescent City boys basketball team (2015) and the 2000 PHS football team have made FHSAA final Fours, but none have advanced to the state final.

That’s 12,940 days without a Putnam County team playing for a state championship if you’re scoring at home.

Hutchins is looking to finally stop the clock.

“We’re just going to have to be the ones to end this,” Hutchins said. “Our girls are now older and more mature, especially when it comes to pitch selection. I’ve prepared us for a close, tight game. We have a defense that keeps teams down, so if we do what we know we can do, we have a good chance. We’ll see how it turns out.”

FHSAA 2A SEMIFINAL

Peniel Baptist Academy (21-4) vs. 

Land O’ Lakes Academy At The Lakes (17-7)

When: 10:35 a.m. today.

Where: Jackie Robinson National Training Center, Vero Beach.

Road here: Peniel defeated Tallahassee FAMU, 16-0, in the Region 1-2A semifinals, and defeated Jacksonville Christ’s Church, 12-2, in the Region 1-2A final; Academy At the Lakes defeated Sarasota Christian, 12-0, in the Region 3-2A semifinals, and defeated Naples Seacrest Country Day, 2-0, in the Region 3-2A final.

Winner gets: The winner of the other semifinal (11:50 a.m. start) between Region 4-2A champion Belle Glade Glades Day (9-7) and Mount Dora Christian (25-4). The FHSAA 2A championship will be held at 11:05 a.m. Wednesday.

Admission: $12.

Directions to the Jackie Robinson National Training Center (formerly Dodgertown): Take US-17/SR-100 south to San Mateo. Veer left onto SR-100 and travel 23 3/4 miles east until reaching US-1. At US-1, turn left and travel 12 1/2 miles. At I-95, turn left onto the entrance ramp and travel 127 miles south until getting to Exit 147 (SR-60/Vero Beach). At the traffic light, turn left onto SR-60 East/20th Street and go 3 1/2 miles. Turn left onto 66th Avenue and stay on that road for half a mile. Turn right onto 26th Street and go 2 1/4 miles. Turn right onto 26th Street/Dodger Road and then make a quick left. Follow signs straight to the parking lot at Dodgertown.

Palatka Daily News

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Palatka, FL 32177
(386) 312-5200

 

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