FRANK JOLLEY
Staff Writer
LEESBURG -- The Lake-Sumter Community College softball team still has some work to do.

But, it's getting closer to its goal.
The Lakers host at 2 p.m. today at LSCC's Clermont campus against Polk State in their home opener with a goal of reaching the state tournament for the first time in recent memory.

"We had a great fall season that gave our players a lot of confidence coming into the season," LSCC coach Kelly Golden said. "The girls have worked hard we've got a good group of sophomores who have become really good leaders for our freshman class. We believe this could be the season when we finally start winning consistently.

"Our players believe they can finish high enough in our conference to earn a playoff berth and that's something we haven't thought much about around here in the last few years."

Golden said the Lakers have depth at nearly every position, including having five pitchers capable of taking the ball in any situation. In the past, LSCC has struggled to compete against others schools in the Mid-Florida Conference because of a lack of depth.

LSCC finished 14-42 last season, but doubled its win total in 2008, Golden's first year with the program. She admits to being hesitant to talk about a postseason berth, even though her players believe that is possible.

Golden feels, however, that a .500 season is more realistic possibility.

"I want to see us continue to make progress and if that results in a playoff spot, that would be fantastic," Golden said. "It would definitely make a lot of people sit up and take notice. We're in the toughest conference in the state and we don't have any easy games.

"One thing for sure is that we are reaching the point where we're capable of beating anyone on our schedule."

Golden said her biggest challenge is to keep her players focused, particularly if the Lakers get off to slow start and lose games early in the season. She hopes the sophomore leadership on the roster will help her.

Golden said the girls that have remained with the program are the ones she feels is dedicated to the team and not just interested when they have success.

"These girls want to win and they want to do whatever it takes to do that," Golden said. "They've committed themselves to turning this program around and being part of a winner. They saw the potential, especially in the fall season when we beat nationally recognized teams like Indian River State College.

"Now they want to help this program take the next step."

Sophomore outfielder Brittany DiRobbio said she believes the Lakers are on the verge of becoming a team that opponents hate to meet. DiRobbio, like Golden, said the fall season, especially the win against Indian River, was a big confidence builder.

The seeds for the Indian River victory, DiRobbio said, were laid in games that were played earlier.

"Indian River beat us something like 18-0 last year, but we played well going into that game and when it was time to play, we weren't afraid of them," DiRobbio said. "Once we started playing them and eventually beat them, it was like, 'We beat Indian River,' and that really showed us how good we can be. Just one win against a team like that, even if it doesn't count in the records, can be such a confidence builder.

"So much of this game is having confidence in yourself and your teammates and now that we have that, I think we're ready to start putting LSCC softball back on the map."

Confidence is so high in the LSCC dugout that even the Lakers' freshman class are looking for a breakout season.

"We're looking to prove a lot of people wrong this year," former South Lake standout Kalee Garner said. "Everyone is so fired up about playing, especially after the success we had in the fall. The coaches are working hard and the players are really enthusiastic at every practice.

"Everyone has a very positive attitude and we want to show that LSCC softball is not a team that opponents can count on for an easy win. Not anymore."

Garner, who was forced to quit playing softball for a time at South Lake due to an unplanned pregnancy, said she has learned to juggle the academic and athletic demands of college with motherhood. She said Golden has been supportive and has accommodated Garner whenever she has to run errands for her son.

That has shown Garner how dedicated Golden is to her players. Garner said her teammates realize that Golden's primary is to help the team succeed and the players have rallied around their coach.

"Coach Golden signed me and she didn't have to when she learned about my situation," Garner said. "She didn't judge me before she met me and she's always honest. That's all a player can ask for from a coach. You love playing for someone like her, because you know she wants to win just as much as you do.

"She's recruited everyone on this roster now, so it's her team and we think it's a pretty good team."
Good enough to play in the postseason, with the state's elite teams?

"We think we can compete with anyone," Garner said. "And believing we belong is half the battle."

 

Lake’s Casey and Jordan Ridge pitch in to help out
Joe Williams – Orlando Sentinel

Casey and Jordan Ridge are special people.

Just ask Mike Ryan, a teacher of students with mental and physical disabilities at Groveland South Lake High. He has been teaching students there for six years and considers Casey and Jordan a rare find.

"They are awesome," Ryan said. "They have huge hearts. They see past the disabilities, and they see them [his students] for the people that they are. Those are the type of people they are. It's hard to find teenagers who will put other people before themselves."

Casey and Jordan Ridge are twin softball players at South Lake. They also are co-presidents of the Peer Buddies Club at the school. That club, part of the Best Buddies program for disabled students, includes about 60 members — many of whom are athletes. In Casey and Jordan Ridge's case, they spend at least three class periods a day working with the disabled students on academics, teaching them life and job skills.

They also are involved in South Lake's Special Olympics — helping the students prepare for a basketball competition this weekend at Cocoa Beach — and in the Miracle League baseball program that allows the disabled to play baseball. They also are helping organize a prom. They spend their Saturdays at the Miracle League games, helping the severely disabled hit, run, field and throw.

Two weeks ago, the sisters signed softball grants with Lake-Sumter Community College. In attendance for the signings, at the insistence of Casey and Jordan, were all the disabled students. Afterward, when pictures were taken, Casey and Jordan wanted to make sure they all were included in a photo.

"The kids are great; they teach you a lot," Jordan said. "They are great to be around. They don't take anything for granted, like tying your shoes or brushing your teeth."

Casey took it even a step further.

"Being in high school, you tend to exaggerate things. You think that things in your life are so terrible when some little thing goes wrong," she said. "But they put it all in perspective. There is this one student who is in a wheelchair, and he will talk about his best friend who can walk and run, and he will say things that he wants to be like him. All he talks about is wanting to walk like his friend."

Largely because of the influence of Ryan, Casey Ridge said she wants to teach disabled students. Jordan may not follow it as a profession, but said she will continue to work with the disabled as a volunteer.

“I think that picture that they wanted with all the students in the Best Buddies program says it best," said their father, Tony Ridge. "My wife and I could both see how much it meant to my daughters to have that picture taken. I honestly believe my two girls have forged friendships that will last long down the road."