LAND O’ LAKES — Jerry English was not in a dugout or coaching third base for two central Pasco teams that made it to state softball championship games this season, but that is not to say the former high school softball coach did not have a hand in their deep postseason runs.
Academy at the Lakes won the Class 2A state title and Land O’ Lakes lost the Class 6A state final. Both games took place at historic Dodgertown in Vero Beach, the spring training home of the Los Angeles (and formerly Brooklyn) Dodgers before a 2009 move to Arizona.
English expressed his heartfelt pride for both teams. Elected into the Florida Athletic Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1994, he racked up 518 career victories, 462 of which came at Land O’ Lakes. He also coached Academy at the Lakes to its first winning season.
Ever the jovial coach — the 81-year-old retired from the coaching ranks in 2015 — English put this year’s success of the Gators and Wildcats in a fitting perspective. He lauded AATL coach Diane Stephenson and Land O’ Lakes’ Mitch Wilkins for their successive efforts.
“They finally found coaches that could do the job,” English jokingly said with a hearty laugh. “I was tickled to death for them.”
AATL capped a 26-4 season by claiming its first-ever state title with a thrilling 1-0 win over Aucilla Christian in 11 innings. Winning pitcher Alexis Kilfoyl doubled to drive in Brooke Blankenship with the only run. On the mound, the junior ace scattered four hits with 13 strikeouts.
“Unbelievable,” English said of Kilfoyl. “She’s enthusiastic. She’s a team player. She’s very knowledgeable.”
Kilfoyl, an Alabama commit, has since been named the Gatorade State Softball Player of the Year. She is the first player in the Tampa Bay area to garner that award since Chamberlain’s Bianka Bell in 2012. This season, Kilfoyl posted a 23-1 record with a paltry 0.32 ERA and 249 strikeouts in 154 innings. In the classroom she carries a 3.78 grade-point average.
If not for back problems in recent years, English, who coached the Wildcats to four district titles and a state semifinal in five seasons, might have still been at the helm. With limited high school-age players on some of his rosters he resorted to bringing up middle school ballplayers.
“I knew what I had,” he said, noting that the current team might wind up with a half-dozen Division I signees.
As for Land O’ Lakes, one season after defeating Plantation American Heritage in the title game, the roles were reversed with the Gators losing the championship game rematch, 5-1. Nonetheless, Land O’ Lakes finished with a 25-7 record.
Land O’ Lakes ace Callie Turner, who pitched her team to the title last season, came up short on the mound this time. She still allowed just four hits and fanned seven. Tia Williams had a run-scoring single that plated pinch-runner Emily Proctor for the Gators’ lone run.
English said Stephenson, who was inducted into Indiana University’s Hall of Fame in 2016, has a record that speaks for itself. As for Wilkins, English said, “Mitch gets those kids real proud to wear Land O’ Lakes jerseys.”
By Steve Lee
CSSN/Aces Staff Writer

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