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Redemption for Lake Wales comes with 2023 Class 4A State Championship

Updated: Dec 15, 2023



CLERMONT — It was all worth it.


The state’s hardest schedule.


The heartbreak after losing last May. The adversity that appeared then was faced and attacked head-on.


For the Lake Wales Highlanders, it was all worth it when their six seniors hoisted the Class 4A State Championship trophy over their heads and yelled in triumph.


“I couldn’t be more excited to bring it back to the city,” senior Presley Smith said. “I love it. I’m so happy for this group, the coaches, our family, it’s a great experience.”


The Highlanders’ high-octane lineup slugged its way to a 7-2 victory over Wakulla (Crawfordville) to capture the FHSAA Class 4A State Championship on Thursday at Legends Way Ballfields, the program’s third softball state championship and first since 2013. 


“The best thing that you see is the expressions on their faces,” head coach Mike Settle said with a smile. “Tears of joy. Last year, we had tears of not-so-joy, but this group came back and from the beginning – it started with the schedule, I told them we wouldn’t play a game this year that was a gimme. They believed in themselves, they put the work in and it paid off in the end.”


After hitting a home run over the wall in Wednesday’s semifinals, Lake Wales shortstop Zamya McBurrows led off the home first with a home run of a different variety. She dropped in a single to right, then an error from the Wakulla right fielder sent the senior sprinting around the bases.


It went down as a single and a three-base error, but it didn’t matter to the Highlanders, because they led 1-0. 


McBurrows went 3-for-3 in the championship game and pushed her senior year average to .412, marking the fourth consecutive season she finished above the .400 mark. It was a special ending to a special player’s career.


“I think she knows the pressure she’s under and she knows how to be clutch in those situations and that’s what makes her a good player,” said first baseman Sydnie Whitaker. “She knows we all count on her and she knows that she has to get the job done and most times, she does.”


After Keira Morris doubled in Hannah Battles and courtesy runner Karsyn Maddox scored on a wild pitch and an error to put the Highlanders up 3-0, McBurrows walked and stole second to immediately put pressure back on the War Eagles.


That’s what she’s done for four years. Impact games with her leg, her bat and her glove.


“People show leadership in different ways. And I think the way that Zamya shows it is with her actions and her plays. Some of us are more verbal, and Zamya doesn’t have to speak to say something. She means business the moment she steps up to that plate. She sets the tone and the rest of us follow,” Smith said.


Smith ripped a single to right to start the third, then came in on Whitaker’s RBI single to give Lake Wales a 4-0 lead after three innings, which appeared to be plenty for starter Anna Conroy, who was on a lengthy scoreless streak in the circle, something that didn’t surprise Settle.


“I’ve been seeing Anna at the fields for a couple of years now. She’s been working with Coach Nancy [Denton] for a while and I know her grit. She wants to get better every day and it showed,” he said. “I can promise you one thing. I never doubted Anna all year. Promise you that.”


Lake Wales added more in the fifth on four consecutive hit by pitches before a two-run single from McBurrows broke it open at 7-0. Battles took the hardest pitch of the inning just under the rib cage and had to take an extra minute before trotting down to first base.


“I did my job, I got on base, even if it meant almost breaking my ribs,” she said.


Battles, a Bethune-Cookman signee, returned to Lake Wales this season after taking some time away from Highlander athletics. She competed in weightlifting this winter to prepare for softball season and felt right at home, joining an already stacked lineup with light tower power that showed at times throughout the year. While she already felt that it was worth it to come back, winning a state championship was icing on the cake.


“I love my teammates,” Battles said. “They wanted me to come and help the team. That’s why I came back. I do wish that I would’ve stayed up here for all four years, it would’ve been even better by my senior year, but I mean, everything happens for a reason. Lessons were learned, I’m going to take those and go off to college. I’m satisfied. We’re state champs and I won it with my team.”


Wakulla picked up two in the seventh, but Conroy came back and got a pop-out to Morris in foul territory. The junior put the squeeze on the softball and the Highlanders could celebrate. 


They were the champions of Class 4A.


And all the emotions poured out from a team that had been through so much, together. The Highlanders were on the other side of the trophy celebration. Tears of joy flowed, as opposed to tears of ‘not-so-joy.’ 


“I got my silver from last year,” Smith said. “This year, I wanted my gold.”


“And I got my gold.”

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