CLOSE

Mariner pitcher Hannah Holloway carries no-hitter to eighth, and Estero pitching duo strikes out 20 in 1-0 win
Andrew Sodergren, [email protected], 239-263-4731

The Estero High School softball team has been one of the area’s top teams for the last three years.

Now the Wildcats are being recognized as one of the nation’s best.

In the most recent rankings released by both USA Today and MaxPreps, the Wildcats are the No. 6 team in the nation. Estero won three more games last week, improving to 15-0 on the season.

“Heading into the season, the goal was to make it to states and win (a championship),” senior third baseman Riley Ennis said. “Now that we’re nationally ranked, it’s pushed us to work even harder.”

Coach Crystal Stowell says there’s a fine line between instilling confidence in her team and letting the accolades go the Wildcats’ heads.

“We try to remind them that just because it’s on the internet doesn’t mean it’s really real,” she said. “Our goal is to make sure they know they’re good but also to play good and be confident and not play any different because what our rankings are, national or state.”

More: Southwest Florida’s top seniors take basketball court for a final time in all-star games

More: FHSAA announces 2019-20 and 2020-21 winter sport classifications

Estero went 4-0 at the Gulliver Slamfest, earning victories over Plantation-American Heritage, Coral Reef, Palmetto and Stoneman Douglas.

Those four Miami-area team have combined records of 38-17, and the Wildcats avenged a loss to Coral Reef from the previous year’s tournament. The game was tied at 7 headed into extra innings, where it went to a Texas tiebreaker – meaning each team started the extra frame with a runner on second. Coral Reef scored twice in the top of the eighth, but the Wildcats countered with three in the bottom of the inning to earn the dramatic, 10-9 win.

“It was good to see quality competition and be able to come out on top,” said junior pitcher Alex Salter, a University of Alabama commit. “And we showed we had the ability to come back when we are down.”

That game marked one of the rare occasions this season when Salter and mound counterpart Lauren Hobbs haven’t completely dominated the competition.

READ ALSO  First Personal Digital Tombstone in the USA has arrived

Hobbs is 9-0 with an 0.26 earned-run average, while Salter is 6-0 with a 0.39 ERA. In 53 1/3 innings, Hobbs has allowed 27 hits with 13 walks and 85 strikeouts. Salter has been nearly unhittable, surrendering 10 hits in 35 2/3 innings with six walks and 82 strikeouts. The two were bailed out by the offense in the Coral Reef game, but last Wednesday against Mariner, it was their turns to carry the squad.

With Tritons ace Hannah Holloway tossing a no-hitter through seven innings, the Wildcats tandem was equally stingy. Hobbs surrendered a hit, walking two and striking out nine in four innings. Salter relieved and dominated, tossing four hitless innings with 11 strikeouts. Estero finally got to Holloway in the bottom of the eighth when Paige Carroll singled up the middle, stole second and came around on a two-out infield error to give the Wildcats a 1-0 win.

“The confidence is there and we’ve got the same confidence in them we’ve had since they were freshmen and they’ve only gotten better,” Stowell said. “Not too many teams can say this and I’ve said this from the very beginning, we’ve got two A’s. It’s so great to have them and they make our team whole.”

Hobbs and Salter are also able to help themselves at the dish. Hobbs is second on the team in batting average (.407), runs (20), hits (22) and RBIs (16), and she’s tied with Salter for the team lead in home runs (3). But they are far from the only contributors on the team.

Ennis, an FAU commit, is turning in a phenomenal senior year, leading the squad in most offensive categories – including average (.556), runs (21), hits (25), doubles (6), triples (5), stolen bases (10) and RBIs (18).

Senior catcher Carly Campbell is a steady presence defensively behind the plate, but she’s also delivered offensively. She’s third on the team in batting average (.368) and RBIs (14). Carroll is hitting .333, and sophomore Caly Hoard is batting .286 with eight stolen bases.

“What really helps is that in the four years I’ve been here, we haven’t had to replace a lot of players each year,” Campbell said. “It’s a big difference when you only have to fill one or two positions each year, as opposed to replacing an entire infield or outfield. Being able to play with the same group of girls over and over, you begin to know each other’s strengths and weaknesses and you really learn how to communicate, on and off the field. I think that’s a big reason we’ve been so successful.”

The Wildcats have been solid in the field and aggressive on the basepaths, something Stowell hopes will continue.

“In the tournament, we had some pretty bad baserunning and since then that’s all we’ve been working on,” Stowell said after Wednesday’s win over Mariner. “It’s important to be aggressive until you’re not allowed to be aggressive.

“Tonight, Anna (Raybuck) got thrown out at second and I wanted to her to be aggressive there, I’ll never be mad at her for that. If it was sloppy, it’s a bit different but it was a great play and they’ve got to do four things. They’ve got to catch it, throw it, catch it again and make the tag. If they can do their four things before we do our one, more power to them.”

With an undefeated season and national ranking on the line every time the Wildcats take the field, one would think the pressure would be on. But the Estero squad isn’t looking at it like that.

“It’s an honor to have our school and our program out there getting recognized, but I don’t think there’s any added pressure,” Salter said. “We just have to keep doing what we’ve been doing, going out there and having fun. Our main goal is to just get better every game, every day in practice.”