MOUNT DORA — Josh Swearingen had the Mount Dora Christian Academy softball team in the batting cage before Monday’s game against crosstown rival Mount Dora.
Nearly three hours before game time.
Swearingen was looking to help the Bulldogs snap out of their collective hitting woes, a slump the Bulldogs have been mired in for at least their last four games – a stretch in which they are 2-2. With the district playoffs about a week away and regionals looming after that, the MDCA coach is concerned about chilly bats at the wrong time.
“You always hope this happens at the start of the year, not now,” said Swearingen. “Slumps are part of the game. Nobody is going to hit every game and the only real way to get out of them is to let the girls hit their way out, so we’re trying to give them some extra time in the cages.
“We’re not that far off … a lot of our girls are hitting the ball hard, but they’re hitting the ball right at people.”
MDCA entered Monday’s game ranked sixth in the Class 2A with a 15-5 record and its last two losses – Class 9A Oviedo and Class 3A Belle Isle Cornerstone Charter – were against larger teams with a combined record of 28-18. The Bulldogs have battered their opposition for much of this season, outscoring opponents 196-65, but the timing of his team’s slump has Swearingen concerned.
To try and add a spark to the lineup, Swearingen moved around his batting order against the Hurricanes. Emily Allen, normally the second hitter in the batting order, was moved down to the fifth spot and the sixth and seventh hitters were bumped a spot.
“Emily has been hitting the ball great all season, but because she was hitting second, we were taking the bat out of her hands a lot with sacrifice bunts,” said Swearingen. “Hopefully, by changing up the batting order, we’ll be able to take advantage of her hot hitting and strengthen the bottom part of our order, as well.”
And even though the Bulldogs were favored against Mount Dora (5-13), Swearingen’s charges did not take the Hurricanes lightly. MDCA approached the pregame batting practice as if it were preparing for a state Final Four game.
“Our (hitting slump) is a big concern,” said Megan Wright, a transfer from Mount Dora. “Hitting is how you score in this game. We just have to keep working at it and get out of our heads.”
Added catcher Faith Musselwhite, who has helped the Bulldogs reach the Class 2A Final Four in each of the past two seasons, “We’re definitely working to get our hitting going again. We work on hitting all the time and I think we’re going to start coming around.”
For Swearingen, Musselwhite’s prediction can’t come soon enough.
And Monday might’ve offered him an indication the Bulldogs’ frosty bats are beginning to thaw. MDCA pounded out six hits, including four over the final two innings in a 5-0 win.
Casey Allen and Emily Allen had two hits apiece. Musselwhite and Casey Allen hit towering doubles off the left-field fence in the fourth and sixth innings, respectively, and the Bulldogs took advantage of a dropped third strike with two outs in the sixth inning to score four unearned runs and put the game on ice behind a dominant effort in the circle by Ari Miller.
Miller permitted only three hits and did not allow a runner past second base. The sophomore struck out 12.
Cheyenne Atkinson had two of the Hurricanes’ three hits. Mount Dora pitcher Olivia Chestnut took the loss, giving up just six hits after holding the Bulldogs hitless three innings and allowed no earned runs.