Sunlake's Frances steps up
LAND O' LAKES - Stephanie Frances did it all over again. With two outs, Sunlake, looking for revenge of an 11-1 embarrassment Pasco gave them Feb. 11, was making a rally down 3-2 on Tuesday night. Pirates starter Courtney Brandt had been lights out until the seventh inning as Alex Rogers singled, moved to second on an error and then Courtney Durbin drove her in with a double and tying the game. Up stepped Frances, a sophomore, who, in her first game in 11 days after battling a hamstring injury, was 0-for-3 with a strikeout. The situation was all-too similar to March 22, when Frances was also 0-for-3 with three strikeouts against district-rival River Ridge. Yet Frances drove in a two-RBI single against the Royal Knights, scoring Rogers and Durbin for the 2-0 win. "That was the first thing I thought of when I came to the plate - not this all over again," Frances said with a laugh. "I go up there with the mentality that I have nothing to lose (when I'm having a bad game at the plate), and then put my best swing on it and get the runners in."Tuesday, Frances lined a single up the middle, scoring Durbin for the 4-3 walk-off win. "She wanted (to get back) just as bad as anyone else," first-year Seahawks coach Jami Finan said. "She's a playmaker, so she knows what to do and how to get it done." "I knew that my team needed me back, and that no matter what, if I was in a little pain, or not, I was going to have to suck it up and play my best," Frances added. "We all really wanted to win this game." Sunlake, who, at 19-3, has locked up the No. 1 seed in next week's 4A-District 8 tournament at Hernando High, hadn't missed a beat since losing Frances to the injury, yet was glad to get back the third baseman. As a freshman, she led the team in average (.500), hits (37), RBIs (22), doubles (8) and home runs (1). Despite the layoff, Frances is still batting .408 with 13 RBIs, including key ones that gave the Seahawks wins against River Ridge and Pasco. "It definitely doesn't matter if you're an upper or underclassmen on this team," Durbin said. "So with Alex (Rogers) and I leading off, we always want to get on for Stephanie and (first baseman) Ashley (Orta) to hit us in, and when we're on, we're more than likely going to get in because Stephanie is behind us. "When Stephanie is on, we're probably going to score because it's a big impact that her bat is at the heart of the lineup." Finan agrees, and despite a team with six seniors, a sophomore is batting third for Sunlake. "She's a very strong and aggressive hitter," Finan said. "She gets down and dirty when she has to, and, last year, she batted something like .500. That led the team - as a freshman - and I think that she just knows when to show up and when it's the most important. "She might as well be another senior on this team, and she kind of is. They're so close to each other like that that no one knows each other's (class) grades." As a sophomore, Frances is showing maturity beyond her years, including letting the limelight shine on the seniors. Frances is more than content to let her play do the talking. "It's important for the seniors to step up and do their thing, and I know I'll have my time (as a senior)," Frances said, "So I'm just sitting back and doing my part on the field and lead by example. I'm letting them lead by rah rah's and speeches. That's what seniors do."
Correspondent Mike Camunas covers prep softball in Pasco County. He can be reached at email@example.com.