May 23, 2004 |The Miami Herald
By ANDRE C. FERNANDEZ
The Southwest softball team brought out the bats in historic fashion Saturday night, beating Weston Cypress Bay 8-0 in the Class 6A final at the Ed Radice Sports Complex to capture its first state title.
The offensive fireworks and another one-hit masterpiece by Missy Penna locked up the school's first team title in any girls' sport in its 48-year history. It is also only the school's second state championship since 1971 and fifth overall.
The Lightning, which was making its first appearance at the state tournament in only its second year of varsity competition, finished the season 21-9.
``This is an incredible feeling,'' said third baseman Courtney Graves, who transferred to Southwest last year. ``I couldn't have asked for a better ending and a better team to have accomplished this with.''
The victory was also the largest margin by a Miami-Dade County team in a state final in the tournament's 16-year history.
``These girls practice hitting any time they possibly can,'' Southwest coach Maritza Diaz said. ``If they could have packed the batting cage on the bus on the way here, they would have just to get a little practice in.''
The Eagles' offensive barrage was highlighted by a two-run home run by center fielder Jackie Yaniga that put Southwest ahead 7-0 in the top of the fourth. It was the third of the season for Yaniga, a George Washington signee for softball and volleyball.
After the game, Yaniga was a bit surprised by her display of power. Penna wasn't.
``She always hits that way in practice,'' Penna said. ``It's just a lot of people don't get to see often.''
Penna, on the other hand, did what Eagles (29-3) aren't tired of seeing often - dominate on the mound.
The junior, who has competed on the Dominican Republic international team, struck out 13 to improve to 27-3. She also opened the scoring in the top of the first when she drilled a 2-0 pitch from Cypress Bay starter Jessica Brazis into the gap in right-center for an RBI triple.
The Lightning helped the Eagles' increase their lead in the top of the second with a couple of costly errors.
``We don't have a dominant pitcher like they do that can help make up for mistakes like that,'' Cypress Bay coach Wendy Wuenker said. ``Our defense let us down.''
A tearful Diaz, who is stepping down after four years and 92 wins as the Eagles' softball coach, gathered some infield dirt as a memento of Southwest's historic win.
``Having been a former athlete at the school, this is such an honor,'' said Diaz, who will remain as the school's girls' soccer coach next year. ``I am so grateful that I got a chance to coach the wonderful human beings on this team. They're more than just my players. They're my friends.''