Duval Sports

No. 2 Oakleaf gets redemption, wins first state title

VERO BEACH-The road to redemption didn’t start in February, it started the day after losing their regional final game at Strawberry Crest last April.

On that night, Strawberry Crest may have knocked off Oakleaf 6-4 to advance to the Final Four, but what it really did was light the spark for the Knights magical run this year.

Immediately after arriving back in town, Oakleaf coach Christina Thompson gave them the weekend off to let the loss sink in, but come Monday it was time to get back to work.

Come Monday the girls were back on the field conditioning and already preparing for the 2017 season, as a daily reminder of what the goal was Thompson wrote on the board the daily goals as well as how many days till they get back to Vero Beach.

Aside from conditioning, the Knights competed in a school wide dodgeball tournament and began a series of bonding exercises as well. Regardless of the event Thompson didn’t let up attaching the daily number of days to every message or note for the team as a constant reminder of the ultimate goal.

Even on vacation at a Tampa Rays baseball game, she found ways to get a teaching lesson in as well. Telling the girls to watch the formations or from her vacation in Key West she still sent the girls messages about daily workouts.

The message was very clear, whatever it takes to get back, “EarnYourRight2Win” and “WinTheInning”.

As the fall came, the team came together and learned a valuable lesson of helping those who are less fortunate after assisting in supplying items for Louisiana flood relief victims.

By February they were ready and well prepared for a long playoff run and getting back to Vero Beach, it was up to the girls to get there.

Two years ago, Oakleaf was three outs away from advancing to its first state title when Ocala Forest stunned the crowd in Vero Beach with a two run walk off home run off of Kelsey Sweatt to steal a 2-1 win.

After getting a taste of the Final Four in 2015 and coming up one game short in 2016 they were determined to get back and get redemption in 2017.

The Knights began the season with four straight wins before dropping a pair of road games 2-1 to a solid Atlantic Coast team and 4-0 to a solid West Orange team to fall to 4-2 on the season.

Oakleaf regrouped and reeled off 10 straight wins to head into Kissimmee 14-2 and knowing a solid showing in the prestigious Kissimmee Klassic would go along way determining their playoff success.

Oakleaf coaches Christina and Robbie Thompson hold up the bracket after winning the prestigious Kissimmee Klassic.

Oakleaf coaches Christina and Robbie Thompson hold up the bracket after winning the prestigious Kissimmee Klassic.

The Klassic features some of the best softball teams in the state and country that annually go on to compete for state titles in their respective classes. Facing extremely solid competition goes along way in getting teams ready for the playoffs.

Wins over Winter Springs 1-0, Timber Creek 3-0, Viera 4-3 and Scott County, Kentucky 1-0 in the championship game not only gave the Knights the title but all the confidence needed to get back to Vero Beach.

The weekend turned out to be what the Knights needed as they bounced back and knocked off Atlantic Coast easily 10-0 three days after getting back from Kissimmee.

From there wins over playoff bound teams Trinity 1-0, Mandarin 6-5 and Baker County 8-3 had the Knights rolling.

As the district tournament approached Oakleaf eliminated Fletcher 4-0 before knocking off Atlantic Coast 8-0 in the championship game to secure home field advantage in the playoffs.

One by one, Oakleaf knocked out Tallahassee Lincoln 10-0, Atlantic Coast 10-0 and Tampa Wharton 10-0 to finally get back to Vero Beach and the Final Four again.

First up was state power St. Thomas Aquinas and the Knights shockingly had little trouble with them knocking off the Raiders 10-0 to reach the state finals for the first time in the schools brief history.

Kelsey Sweatt and Madi Davis combined on the shut out win on the mound while the Knights banged out 14 hits behind Katie Kistler, Alex Acevedo, Rebecca Koskey and Baylee Goddard.

Only Wellington from West Palm Beach stood between Oakleaf winning their first state championship and bringing home the trophy.

With Oakleaf clinging to 2-1 lead in the bottom of sixth, Sweatt struggled as Wellington loaded the bases with one out; however Sweatt regrouped and forced a pop up and struck out the ensuing batter to get out of the jam.

That seemed to spark the Knights offense in the top of the seventh as they responded as Mika Garcia scored on a bunt play from Tracey Ferguson to increase the lead to 3-1.

Oakleaf wasn’t done.

The Knights loaded the bases and continued to put pressure on the Wellington pitcher pushing across two more runs on a hard hit to short and walk for 5-1 lead.

Acevedo scored from third on a sac fly increasing the lead to 6-1 putting the Knights three outs away from their first state title.

Sweatt came back out in the bottom of the seventh with a  6-1 lead now and retired the side to close it out and the celebration began on the field.

Oakleaf became the second team from Clay County to win a softball title joining the 2001 Clay team, which Christina Thompson also won a state title as a player.

After starting 4-2, the Knights (30-2) closed the season out on a 26 game winning streak.

How dominant was the Oakleaf pitching staff the Knights closed out the season only giving up one run in 47 innings.

The year came to a close on a sweet note on June 15 as Sweatt was named 8A Player of the Year and head coach Christina Thompson became the first coach in the First Coast area to be named the Florida Dairy Farmers State Softball Coach of the Year.