MARIANNA, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Chipola softball set a goal to win three championships this season.
One down, two to go.
The Panhandle Conference champion hope to be crowned state champs by next weekend. To do that, they'll have to navigate an FCSAA Tournament field in Longwood almost as daunting as the national tournament.
Play begins Thursday between three of the nation's top five teams--No. 3 Chipola included--and five of the top 20. Only two teams advance to nationals with no at large bids.
It's a challenging, though familiar challenge for most of the lineup.
Four of the Lady Indians' First Team All-Panhandle players are sophomores who started a year ago, including player of the year Candela Figueroa.
As for the freshmen...
"You never know about the freshmen," associate head coach Jimmy Hendrix admitted. "You try to prepare all year for it. You try to put them in situations, but it's really a game time decision. Hopefully we've done enough throughout year and the last two weeks that we've got them prepared and ready for it.
"You're going to get a bad call. How do you react? Who gets the bad bounce and who gets the good bounce? Who makes the right play at the right time? When you've got eight teams as good as the state of Florida, you never know."
The Lady Indians scheduled a scrimmage Saturday just to stay busy. They know they can't take anything for granted, especially with a 16 day layoff.
"There's a benefit because you get time to refresh," Hendrix said. "The grind through the Panhandle Conference wears on you mentally and physically. If you've got some injuries, you can rest and you've got some mechanical stuff you can fix. The downside is you don't get to see live pitching every day. We're trying to simulate as best we can, and then hopefully we show up, we're prepared, and ready to go."
Chipola leaves Monday and opens against State College of Florida at 1 ET Thursday. Conference runner up Gulf Coast departs Tuesday, opening Tuesday night against Indian River State at 7.