TAMPA — There is a passion deep within Jessica Warren to compete at a high level.
It is evident in her movement on the softball field, turning singles into doubles with tenacious sprints, firing cannonballs to first strong enough to lift the first baseman off her feet, and with her eyes fixated at the batter, punching her fist into her glove, ready to make the next play.
At the age of 3, swinging a bat, holding a glove and throwing a softball had become second nature.
“I grew up around baseball and softball and it’s just something I love to do,” Warren said. “I can wake up every morning and come to the field and take some ground balls and play a game. I love the game of softball. It’s my life.”
In her final season as a high school player, the Alonso High shortstop who will play for Florida State this fall is arguably having the best season of any player in Hillsborough County. Entering tonight’s Class 8A-Region 2 quarterfinal against Palm Harbor University, Warren leads the No. 4 state-ranked Ravens (20-4) with 49 hits, 27 of which are for extra bases, including 10 home runs, 33 RBIs, 48 runs and a .605 batting average. She has struck out only four times while drawing 11 walks.
“She’s really a remarkable player,” said Robin Kopp, Warren’s coach at Alonso all four years. “I’ve seen many players over the years, but the talent she has ... and she reads the game so well. She predicts where the ball is going to go. She wows you.”
Statistically, Warren’s junior season didn’t match up to her sophomore year (29 runs, 27 hits, 19 RBIs, nine HRs), though she was still named an All-American. Yet the decrease in production motivated Warren to set up a stellar senior season.
“It was just improvement in practice,” she said, “going out when I didn’t have anything to do, taking some extra batting practice, some extra ground balls, going to the field with the girls, just taking another step in the game.”
In the Class 8A-District 7 tournament semifinals against Wharton, Warren fielded a single in between second and third base, but slipped, falling into a split. Almost completely on her back, she managed to laser the ball to first base, nearly throwing the runner out.
“If you’ve never seen her play, you have to watch her,” Kopp said. “It’s amazing. She’s truly an amazing athlete.”
Alonso captured the 8A-7 title last week, the program’s first district championship. This year’s team is the third in school history to reach the state region tournament, having also gone in 2011 and ’12. The Ravens have yet to win a postseason game. Warren believes this is the year they go all the way.
“That is our goal, state champions,” Warren said. “But we’re just focusing on one game at a time, one inning at a time.”