The Florida Gulf Coast League has enjoyed marked success once-again during their second summer season, and the campaign will end with the league championship series that is set to take place later today, July 20th.
Both the Siesta Key Phinz and the Sarasota Circus, the two teams that will play for the FGCL title, are in their debut seasons as league franchises. All ten teams reached the double-elimination playoff bracket, and the field has whittled itself down to the final two teams left standing.
Having already lost once in the bracket, the Circus will have to win twice on Tuesday to take home the championship crown. The Phinz need just one win to secure the trophy.
Championship Tuesday kicks off via live stream with a preview show that will include Gray Robertson, Tom Canterbury, and Emilee Erickson. Robertson, in his second year as the “Voice of the FGCL”, will also call the championship game or games with Erica Beach as color commentator. Canterbury will host an alternate broadcast of the championship game or games, with Erickson as analyst and other guests.
As has been the case for the entirety of the FGCL’s second season, the championship – whether one game or two – will be live streamed on USSSA Live. For those who do not have a year-long subscription to the site, a single-day pass can be economically purchased to watch the championship.
DEPHINZING THEIR FRONTRUNNER STATUS
Yes, that’s a bad pun. Yes, we ran with it anyway. The Phinz are in the driver’s seat now, needing just a single victory on Tuesday to clinch the championship title.
Blake Neleman has been stellar in the circle, leading the team in innings pitched and registering a league-best 1.28 ERA. Neleman also threw the first-ever perfect game in FGCL history earlier in the summer. Neleman also ranks second in the league in strikeouts with nearly seventy Ks to her credit. The Circus will see her at least once on Tuesday.
Lexie Webb and Jaeda McFarland have been two offensive weapons for the Phinz this summer, with Webb ranking among the league leaders in batting average and on-base percentage, while McFarland is among the league leaders in hits and leads the FGCL in triples as one of just two players with multiple 3-base hits.
FINALE UNDER THE BIG TOP
The Circus started the summer season 4-0 before their first loss came to Team Mexico, and that hot start included a 14-4 offensive-heavy win over the Phinz.
In the circle, Sarah Willis leads the squad in both innings pitched and ERA. In just shy of 68 innings of work, Willis owns a 1.34 ERA and has collected 53 strikeouts. The victorious pitcher in nine of her team’s fifteen wins, Willis has looked very sharp in the circle this summer.
At the dish, six players are batting over .300 on the summer and two are over .400. That pair includes Stormy Kotzelnick and the afore-mentioned Willis, showing herself as the latest two-way star. Kotzelnick owns a .422 clip at the plate with a .570 on-base percentage, 21 walks, and 15 RBIs to her credit. Willis is batting .438 leading into Tuesday, with five home runs and 27 RBIs.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
We have yet to see the Neleman vs. Willis pitching matchup that summer softball fans have been waiting for. The two have been among the best in the league this summer and Tuesday could be the newest chapter in the age-old question of what happens when an unstoppable force beats and immovable object; the team whose ace proves more unflappable and whose offense steps up at the right time will be the one that hoists the trophy by Tuesday afternoon.
Also remember the names McFarland, Kotzelnick, and Armistead – all three are players that take the field with high energy and all three are names that you will want to keep an eye on both on Tuesday and when college softball returns in 2022.
RECAPPING THE REGULAR SEASON
The Phinz finished second in the regular-season standings with a 13-8 overall record. The Circus finished fourth in the league, sporting a 12-9 overall record after a red-hot start to the summer season.
Full regular season standings:
1. Manatee Squeeze 15-6
2. Siesta Key Phinz 13-8
3. Anna Maria Aquanauts 13-9
4. Sarasota Circus 12-9
5. Myakka City RiverMocs 11-10
6. Manatee Impact 10-11
7. Bradenton Slice 9-12
8. South Bradenton Skeeters 8-12
9. SUA Pioneers 7-14
10. Bradenton Lynx 7-14
AND THE AWARD GOES TO…
The FGCL Awards were handed out prior to the league’s All-Star festivities on Friday. Rylie Boone (Oklahoma/Squeeze) was named league MVP, while Blake Neleman (Georgia Tech/Phinz) was named Pitcher of the Year and Devyn Flaherty (Florida State/Lynx) was named Offensive Player of the Year. Ellie Armistead (Georgia/Circus) earned Defensive Player of the Year honors for her work with the glove.
Former Florida State great and Aquanauts head coach Ellie Cooper was named the league’s Coach of the Year.
Other awards presented included crowning Wisconsin’s Christaana Angelopulos as the FGCL’s Home Run Champion with eleven longballs to her credit. Florida State’s Michaela Edenfield won Breakthrough Athlete, while Marshall’s Aly Harrell was named the People’s Choice Award winner.