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For Osceola, spring camp feels like extension of May


Osceola P Aliyah Lai taking batting practice during the Warriors' practice on Jan. 30, 2024.

SEMINOLE – It’s difficult to find continuity in high school softball. The annual turnover that comes from graduation plays a part, then there’s a solid chunk of the year where high school teams don’t practice.

 

It can make the gap from May to January seem impossible to bridge.

 

When Osceola closed up shop last season, it knew there would be a hefty amount of continuity to open the softball complex’s gates with. Even though the Warriors suffered an unfortunate exit in the second round of their region tournament, they felt they would be able to pick things right back up. To a point this spring, they have.

 

“I know every single one of these girls, not only myself, we’ve been working on and off the field,” said junior pitcher Aliyah Lai. “Everyone’s putting in their own efforts for their position.”

 

Osceola head coach Brian Mont called January’s camp “an extension of May.”

 

The Warriors graduated two seniors for the second consecutive season, something that’s facilitated that mindset. In return, they added two new players – Dunedin transfer Jordyn Wagner and freshman Bri Shepherd.

 

“I think even though we lost two great players, the new talent and it being a smaller group…will actually take us further,” senior Lisa Cisliek said. “As a group, we’re doing more now, even though we only have two more on the team.”

 

But wait, there’s more, considering that the Warriors will get back Theresa “Cobra” Diez back. The junior missed the entire 2023 spring season with a knee injury and will be an important role player with her bat.

 

She’ll have an equally important role in taking some innings from Lai, who twirled over 130 innings as a sophomore, much to Mont’s distaste. Meanwhile, Wagner threw 13.1 innings at Dunedin, allowing three earned runs in 10 outings and likely will see an increased role at Osceola.

 

“I see it as around the neighborhood of 175 innings in a season. I really don’t want one pitcher getting to 130-140,” he said. “We want to allow them to have their rest and be able to be successful on the mound. That’s the most important thing.”

 

Cisliek shared the sentiment and thought that Lai had the weight of her team on her shoulders. After an incredible first month where the right-hander worked a 0.48 ERA in 57 innings, signs of wear started to show. All in all, Lai’s sophomore season turned a lot of heads. She finished second in Pinellas County with 174 strikeouts, and if she kept her first month’s pace (105 punchouts through Mar. 24), she would’ve finished first. It feels safe to expect her to take another step forward with a solid staff around her.

 

Another expectation of continuity surrounding the Warriors – expect them to be in the mix for the PCAC South conversation again. They usually always are, and in recent years, the South’s representative in the PCAC Championship game has been Osceola.

 

Except for last year.

 

“That game was personal,” said Lai. “We focused on the championship before the game.”

 

An April loss to St. Petersburg sent it to the PCAC Championship and it would be the Green Devils to host East Lake, not Osceola. A shock to the system. Continuity, broken, perhaps?

 

“You can’t take a day off,” Mont said before giving a quick laugh. “That’s why sometimes I’m a bit irritable.”

 

While getting back to the county championship game is a priority, it means nothing if Osceola doesn’t take care of business against their south county opponents, not overlooking anyone. A rematch with St. Petersburg comes early, and it opens PCAC South play.

 

That’s where the continuity from last May comes into play. The Warriors rattled off five straight victories before getting into a slugfest with Auburndale in the Class 5A-Region 2 Semifinals. There’s extreme confidence in the bats. A healthy Addison Futch helps, with the hope that the Seminole State signee can propel them in the clutch.

 

“What she did for us two years ago was that her two-out base hits were huge for us,” Mont said. “We missed that a little bit last year.”

 

Futch, a dual-sport basketball athlete, dealt with a broken finger for the first half of the 2023 season. Mont kept some of the stress off of her by opting for then-freshman Angelina Rodriguez to catch, however, the senior did get plenty of time in the field at second base.

 

“I tried to keep her off the field, but sometimes that’s really hard. I think she came back maybe just a little too soon and maybe had that immediate rush of, ‘oh my gosh, I have to catch up’ and I think she rushed herself,” Mont said. “A pinky can mess up a swing for a couple of weeks.”

 

Add in Cisliek, who posted career highs in runs, walks and hits in her first season as an everyday starter, along with Tampa commit Jenna Neupaver, Rodriguez, Hannah Hatton and Zoie Koceja and it becomes easy to see the continuity Osceola possesses at the plate and in the field.

 

“We keep feeding off of each other, our hits are unstoppable,” Cisliek said. “It’s not just about one at-bat anymore. It’s the whole team and I’m more here for the group and for us to have fun. By this point, that’s what we’re supposed to be here to do.”

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