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Familiarity helps as Lake Wales takes down Lemon Bay in 4A Semis

Updated: Dec 15, 2023

Lake Wales' Zamya McBurrows slides into second base in the Class 5A State Semifinal against Lemon Bay. McBurrows homered in the Highlanders' shutout victory.

CLERMONT — A majority of Lake Wales’ players had been to Legends Way Ballfields before for a state tournament. They knew where to warm up, they knew what the experience would be like, they knew what the pressure of a state semifinal would be like.

The familiarity with it all helped when the Highlanders walked in the ballpark on Wednesday for the Class 4A State Semifinal against Lemon Bay (Englewood).

“I saw more confidence,” Lake Wales head coach Mike Settle said. “They were ready. You could just tell in their eyes that they were ready.”

After graduation ceremonies on Tuesday, the Highlander seniors loaded up as a group and traveled to Clermont. They got in late, had a quick team meeting and were promptly up at 6 a.m. for breakfast. They were prepared and ready to go and it was evident from the get-go.

In between a handful of illegal pitches against Lemon Bay starting pitcher Zoey Mills, Lake Wales worked back-to-back-to-back walks from Zamya McBurrows, Kiera Davis and Presley Smith before Lydia Denton drove in McBurrows on an RBI groundout to draw first blood. While the Highlanders would’ve liked to get more out of that bases-loaded, nobody-out situation, getting Anna Conroy in the circle a lead was important.

McBurrows wouldn’t get the opportunity to homer in her first at-bat of this year’s state semifinal after the four-pitch walk, but she wouldn’t miss the opportunity to put her name all over this year’s.

She took an 0-1 pitch from Mills deep to left field and quickly doubled Lake Wales’ lead to 2-0.

“I feel like my swing’s been getting a little bit better,” she said. “Started off the season a little bit shaky, but I feel like I’ve been able to get back into my groove. Feel like that helped a lot, getting some extra swings in with my dad.”

The Highlanders weren’t done in the inning. Davis walked for the second time in as many plate appearances, then Smith reached on a fielder’s choice. Denton sent them to second and third before Sydnie Whitaker delivered the big blow with a two-run single through the 5-6 hole that doubled their lead again.

“I called timeout to talk to her, because sometimes she presses a little bit, I told her, ‘clear your head, you got one job to do and that’s to hit that yellow thing coming at you.’ She bared down and hit the crap out of it,” Settle said.

A four-run lead was plenty for Conroy, who allowed just one hit on a fourth-inning double to Nyah Carson. For the sophomore, it was her second taste of state tournament softball after throwing four innings in relief in last year’s Class 4A State Championship game.

Similar to most of her teammates, the familiarity of it all helped.

“I wasn’t very nervous. Felt pretty great,” she said. “I just hit my spots, coaches called some pretty good pitches.”

A two-out fifth-inning rally sparked another insurance run for Lake Wales to cap off a 5-0 victory. Hannah Battles and Kirsten McRae hit consecutive singles ahead of Lilah Denton, who hit a third straight single to bring Battles in.

Conroy worked around a five-pitch walk in the sixth and two illegal pitches in the seventh to finish off the Manta Rays and send the Highlanders to their second consecutive Class 4A State Championship game.

“She had a good bullpen earlier in the day. Anytime you can throw a one-hitter in a state semifinal game – she got in a little bit of trouble early, but she bared down and defense was just solid, as usual,” Settle added.

Lake Wales will face Wakulla (Crawfordville) on Thursday at 1 p.m. to determine who takes home the crown in Class 4A. The War Eagles were a 5-2 winner over Key West in the day’s second semifinal to advance to their first softball state championship game in program history. 

So, on one side of tomorrow’s title game, there’s a team looking to make history for the first time. In the other dugout, the Highlanders look to add another state championship to their program’s history. It’s the first back-to-back title game appearance since 1995-96 and the program’s seventh title game overall. They look to hoist the state champion trophy for the first time since 2013, which would be their third softball state championship.

“I don’t know much on Wakulla, but they won their region, so they’re pretty good,” Settle said. “We’re fortunate enough to still be playing.”


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