Experienced Baldwin softball team back and focused for final four

It’s the same team but a different mindset for the Baldwin softball team.

The Indians (25-4) face Calvary Christian (20-7) at 1:30 p.m. on Tuesday at Legends Way Ball Field in Clermont, a rematch of last year’s final four game. Just because the opponent is familiar doesn’t mean things feel the same. Baldwin was a state semifinal novice a season ago

“Last year, we were just so excited to win the region and get there, we didn’t really know what to expect. This year, they’re way more focused and it’s a different feeling this year.”

The Indians had an unforgettable season in 2022, rolling to a 26-3 record and winning a regional title. For Shields, it was a major accomplishment in and of itself. It took 11 seasons for her to clear that hurdle.

“Even winning a district title is tough,” she said. “To get to the final four, it’s extremely hard to get there.”

The benefit of going down to Clermont now is experience. The Indians lost a 5-3 heartbreaker in eight innings last year to Calvary Christian. The silver lining in that loss — Baldwin’s roster was loaded with underclassmen.

The bulk of Baldwin’s roster from last season is back, and that’s important for larger reasons than statistics. That includes sluggers like Jazmine Ramos-Merced (.422, 8 HR, 31 RBI), Chloe Gotto (.404, 2 HR, 30 RBI) and Cali Hartung (.371, 5 HR, 21 RBI).

Those players (Ramos-Merced and Gotto are both freshmen, Hartung is a junior) all got to experience that trip before. Shields said that trip to Clermont last year definitely helps with nerves this time around. After they’ve been out on the same field they’ll be on Tuesday, there won’t be the newness of a final four trip this time around.

“I think having gone and experienced it, the girls know what to expect,” she said. “We want them to enjoy it, but we know it’s a business trip.”

Pitcher Shaylen Byrd, also a junior, has shined in the circle after getting just 35.1 innings in last year while backing up Piper Young. She’s 14-2 with a 1.71 ERA (226 Ks, 163.2 IP).

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