VALRICO — Since her first day on the job, first-year Bloomingdale High softball coach Mandy Schuerman has managed her team using a specific strategy: find a way to win.
Game by game, inning by inning, that’s just what the Bulls have done.
At 4:45 p.m. today, Bloomingdale, which until this season hadn’t played in a state playoff game since 2009, faces Weston Cypress Bay in the Class 8A state semifinals. Bloomingdale (25-3), ranked No. 6 in the 8A state poll, is making its first state final four appearance since 2004. The Bulls won their only championship in 1993.
“As far as what is our strategy is, we find a way to win,” Schuerman said. “However it ends up working out that game, that’s what we’re going to work with. It’s not always going to be small ball but you have to work with what’s given.”
Once the possibility of reaching the state championship became a reality, winning at all costs became Bloomingdale’s style of play.
“When you have a group that is enjoying each other’s company and doesn’t want a season to end, it works out a little bit better for you,” Schuerman said.
Bloomingdale won all three region playoff games on the road by a combined score of 6-3. The Bulls are coming off a 2-1 win against Vero Beach in the region final on Monday.
“We always come together as a team to get these really big wins that we need,” said junior second baseman Elizabeth Jackson, an Arkansas commit who scored a run in Monday’s game and leads the team in hits (35) and runs (23). “We have (junior pitcher) Lace (Smith) behind us, we have a good (infield) defense and outfield. I think our defense is really strong and we have a good offense.”
Speedy sophomore Taylor Engman (25 hits, 19 runs) has shined in the outfield. Smith, a junior and University at Buffalo commit, enters the state semifinals with 278 strikeouts and a 22-2 record. Smith credits her breakout season, and that of all her teammates, to Schuerman.
Once the Hillsborough County record holder for strikeouts in a season, Schuerman, a former pitcher at East Bay High and the University of Florida, was an assistant coach at Bloomingdale under former and longtime coach Mike Clemon before taking an assistant coaching position at Florida International University two years ago.
“I think every coach has their own stamp or staple,” Schuerman said. “I’ve taken a lot from all the coaches I’ve learned from.”
It was Schuerman who decided to insert Smith, who rarely batted her first two years on varsity, into the batting order. During the Bulls’ region playoff run, Smith has hit a game-winning home run and a go-ahead two-run triple, and she had an RBI single in Monday’s win.
“I love her to death,” Smith said of Schuerman. “All around with all these girls, she’s just been awesome.”
A state title this week wouldn’t be the end of the team’s magical run, Smith said. It would only mark the beginning.
“I wouldn’t want it to end,” Smith said. “I’d want it to keep going for next year.”