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With coach Mary Huff at the helm, Okeechobee goes on surprising postseason surge

PALM BEACH GARDENS — A year ago it was pitcher Sean Osceola who led Okeechobee High School’s baseball team on a postseason journey that surpassed expectations.

Freshman Elle Thomas has her eyes on a popup as she handles third base duties for the Brahmans during their playoff win against Dwyer. (Photo Kevin Johnson)

This spring two Seminoles played a big role in another surprising playoff push. This time it was the softball team. The Brahmans, with head coach Mary Huff at the helm and freshman Elle Thomas at third base, turned a mediocre regular season into a stunning posteason.

Nobody would have been surprised had Okeechobee, which was well under .500 all season, quietly exited the season in the district semifinals, but the Brahmans had other plans.

Okeechobee found its groove in the postseason. The Brahmans beat Martin County, 4-1, in the Class 7A-District 13 semifinals and then stunned South Fork, 6-2, to win the district championship.

Okeechobee kept the momentum going with a 2-1 win against Olympic Heights in a regional quarterfinal and a thrilling 8-5 regional semifinal triumph against Dwyer in nine innings.

“It’s been amazing,” Huff said after the Brahmans ousted Dwyer on May 14 in Palm Beach Gardens. “These kids have come together and have proved themselves. If you asked me if we were going to be here at the beginning of the season, I probably would have said ‘we’ll give it a good shot, but we’re young and rebuilding.’ But these kids have proven themselves and tonight was such a huge team effort. I’m so proud of these kids.”

Thomas, who played for Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School the past few years, made the defensive play of the game in the bottom of the fifth inning. With a runner at first, Dwyer attempted a sacrifice bunt. A charging Thomas scooped up the ball almost in front of home plate. Her only option appeared to be to throw to first base in the direction she was moving, but she opted to try to nab the runner going to second. Throwing off her back foot while going in the opposite direction of the base, she made a SportsCenter-worthy play to get the out at second.

“That was a huge play,” Huff said. “We practice that. Get up in their face. As soon as we know they’re bunting, we want to get that lead runner. Everybody automatically thinks go one, get the sacrifice out and that was their plan, but we were one step ahead of them the entire way.

“She’s never practiced throwing it off her back foot like that. That was some Derek Jeter stuff. That was a great play.”

After Okeechobee went ahead with three runs in the top of the ninth, Thomas handled two grounders and fired them to first for the first two outs of a 1-2-3 inning.

Thomas also shined at the plate with a single, an RBI and a long fly ball out. In the district championship, she smacked a two-run double.

“She’s putting some good swings on the ball,” Huff said. “She had a base hit and put one on the warning track. She’s a freshman. It’s only up from here for her. I’m happy with where she’s at.”

Okeechobee took advantage of its chances and received solid outings from pitcher Haley Underhill.

“They follow Haley’s lead on the mound,” Hufff said. “She’s a great person to have on the mound. They want to have her back. She does well and they want to do well for her scoring runs.”

Okeechobee’s playoff surge ended May 17 with a 3-0 loss at home to Doral Charter in a regional final.

So the 2007 Okeechobee team, which Huff played for, remains the only Brahmans squad to reach the state’s final four.

Huff hopes the experience and mojo generated from the playoffs carries into next season.

“When they set the standard like this for going this far in the postseason, these kids aren’t going to want anything less than that,” she said.

Mary Huff, head coach of the Okeechobee High School softball team, second from right, talks to her players after the team’s 8-5 win against Dwyer in a Class 7A regional semifinal May 14 in Palm Beach Gardens. The Brahmans finished the regular season with a 7-16 record, but then reeled off four straight upsets that included a district championship and two regional tournament wins. (Photo Kevin Johnson)
Okeechobee celebrates after knocking off Dwyer, 8-5, in nine innnings in a Class 7A regional semifinal in Palm Beach Gardens. (Photo Kevin Johnson)
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