TAMPA — Jefferson High softball coach Eve Suarez has led the program to three state region appearances since taking over the program in 2005. Under Suarez, the Dragons followed their first appearance in 2010 with back-to-back postseason trips in 2011 and 2012.
The team missed the playoffs last year after losing to Sickles in the district tournament semifinals.
This season, Suarez and the Dragons hope to add another chapter to the turnaround by winning the program’s first district title. If all goes well, they also could earn the program’s first playoff win.
Entering Wednesday, the Dragons were 11-4 overall and 9-1 in Class 6A-9, which includes a win against Hillsborough County power Chamberlain.
Though owning the top seed entering the district tournament is important to Suarez, it’s not the goal she wants her team to achieve. She wants to host the first state playoff game in program history.
“We’ve finished with the first seed before,” she said. “I’ve gone to the regionals three times and each time I’ve finished as district runner-up. I want people to come to us. Being at home would be a plus.”
Nicole Lopez, one of seven seniors on this year’s squad, leads the team in hits (15) and runs (13), and is 7-2 on the mound. Junior Natalia Rivera has two home runs and a team-best 13 RBIs.
Jefferson, Chamberlain and Leto are the only programs with winning records in the district, but Suarez isn’t overlooking any opponent. Blake and Lennard both reached the postseason last year with Blake within one win of the region championship. She said winning a district title will take the players’ best performance.
“It all depends on how the girls show up,” Suarez said. “If my girls come with their ‘A’ game, they should be in the district final game.”
East Bay’s Rodriguez closing in on No. 300
Entering Wednesday, longtime East Bay coach Glenn Rodriguez was six wins away from reaching 300 for his career. In 17 years, Rodriguez is 294-171 and guided the program to its first state title in 2010.
The Indians have five regular-season games remaining and are chasing Durant for the third seed in Class 7A-District 7. Though a newly formed district, the Indians won the district title last season.
Playing for first place
A number of games this week will decide which teams enter the district tourney with the top seed.
Tonight, Strawberry Crest travels to Plant City to attempt to clinch the top seed in Class 7A-District 7. The Chargers defeated Plant City 3-0 in the first meeting, giving the Raiders their lone district loss. Strawberry Crest enters the game undefeated in district play at 7-0.
Steinbrenner will travel to Gaither on Friday in a battle for first in 7A-8. Both teams have one district loss.
Also Friday, Tampa Catholic hosts Holy Names with an opportunity to clinch first place in 4A-10, while Carrollwood Day School can clinch 3A-7 with a win against Seffner Christian. CDS and TC won the previous meetings.
Lastly, Robinson can clinch the top seed in 5A-9 with a win against Middleton on Saturday.