The Naples and Barron Collier softball teams are each vying for a spot in the state tournament, with the Golden Eagles facing a very daunting task indeed.
The Golden Eagles (25-3) travel to Bartow (28-1) tonight at 7:30 for the Class 4A-Region 3 title game. Bartow, winners of four straight state titles (two in 4A, two in 3A), is ranked seventh in the nation, according to USA Today, and is the No. 1 team in the latest state poll.
Barron Collier (21-7) hosts West Boca Raton at 7:30 in tonight's Class 5A-Region 4 final. The Bulls (24-3) topped St. Thomas Aquinas 8-1 in the regional semifinals, while the Cougars rallied for a dramatic 3-2, eight-inning win over Dwyer.
Naples and Bartow met during the regular season, and the result wasn't pretty for the Golden Eagles. The Yellow Jackets handed Naples a 10-0, five-inning defeat in March.
"Obviously, we're a better team now than we were then but so are they," Naples coach Robert Iamurri said. "Bartow is still at the peak of their program, they've got kids with a ton of experience who know how to win."
Although the Golden Eagles are the underdogs, Iamurri says his team is peaking right now.
"Since that loss (to Bartow), we've lost only one game and that was 1-0 to Sarasota," he said. "We're playing good fundamental softball and we'll need to be at our best to win this game."
Following the Cougars' win over Dwyer, the Barron Collier coaches got an advance scouting report on the Bulls.
"Dwyer played them twice in the regular season and split with them," Barron Collier coach Tom Resop said. "From what they told me, they've got an outstanding sophomore pitcher (Elise Kittrell) and two very good hitters who we'll have to keep our eyes on. Other than that, we don't really know a whole lot about them."
Resop is confident his young team can win and advance to the state tournament, as the Cougars seem to have the proper mind-set heading into tonight's contest.
"We've got four words that we never use on this team — can't, don't, won't and if," Resop said. "The first three are obvious, but I never want to hear the girls say 'if only we had done this' or 'if only we had done that.' Just go out and play the game and the rest will take care of itself."
Despite the Cougars' youth (they have just three seniors on the roster), Barron Collier doesn't get rattled when down. The Cougars were down to their last out before rallying for a run to force extra innings with Dwyer. The Cougars immediately gave up a run in the top of the eighth before scoring twice with the bottom of the order up for the win.
"That was impressive, the way they kept fighting against a great pitcher," Resop said. "And we're going to need more of that in this game."
Resop helps keep his team loose by writing a letter before every game, with one of the team members reading it before the game. Resop recently added poetry to his repertoire, and he says the girls have fun with it.
"They like to laugh at us coaches anyway, so why not write a little poem to get everyone loosened up," he said.
"I just want to let the team know that I believe they're the best team around. I wouldn't trade any of these girls for any other girls in the country, and I honestly mean that."