By Caroline Smith
The Key West Lady Conchs softball team had a historic 2022 season. They are the first softball team in Key West High School history to make it to the 4A State Championship, where the final four teams play. With a record of 19-4-1, the Conchs had the potential to go all the way. The entire city of Key West was behind them.
On Wednesday, May 25, as the Lady Conchs departed for Clermont, the Key West High School band and cheerleaders lined the walkway chanting the school’s fight song. At the end of the walkway, the team was greeted with love and optimism from family, friends and what seemed like the entire Key West community. Superintendent of Schools Theresa Axford and Key West Mayor Teri Johnston, herself a college softball player, wished the team luck at states.
As the bus pulled away from the high school, we could hear the crowd. We were led by the police and fire chiefs as well as a police motorcade and fire truck. As we drove down Flagler Avenue, people on the sides of the road yelled and honked, along with students at Grace Lutheran school. As we made our way to Stock Island, people continued to line the road with work and utility trucks from the Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority and Keys Energy Services, all wishing us luck. Workers in a Keys Energy bucket truck held aloft the 2022 banner for the Lady Conchs. It truly was an inspiring and incredible sight. A sign and cheering fans greeted the team in Big Coppitt. The students and teachers of Sugarloaf School were on their field, facing the highway and cheering with posters, streamers and whistles as the Lady Conchs passed by waving back. The Conchs played their hearts out with the support of their community behind them.
On May 26, Key West faced the Lake Wales Highlanders in the state semifinal game. The Conchs let the game get away from them early in the first inning. Pitcher Chloe Gilday gave up a lead-off home run followed by an error that would allow a second run to cross the plate in the first. Now the Conchs had to play catch-up. Key West scored its one and only run in the bottom of the second inning when Miesha Hernandez hit a no-doubt home run to left field. That is where the bats ended for Key West, tallying only four hits the entire game. Scarlet Niles led the team with two hits, and Hernandez and Chloe Knowles each had one. The next four innings would be scoreless for both teams. In the top of the seventh, the Highlanders hit yet another home run, making the final score 3-1.
Gilday started on the mound for the Conchs, giving up six hits and three runs while striking out five in 6.1 innings of work. Neveah Arnold came in to finish the game in the top of the seventh with one out, giving up no hits and no runs. Despite the loss, the legion of Conch fans in attendance from across the state comforted the team. Conch fans easily outnumbered those from nearby Lake Wales.
“We had a great season and I am very happy to know I ended off my senior year doing something no other Key West High School softball team has been able to accomplish,” senior captain Marina Goins said. “This team continued to improve over the entire season, setting the foundation for future Conch generations.”
The Key West Lady Conchs have three players who will go on to play at the collegiate level. Isabella Perez will attend Florida International University and play Division 1 softball for the Panthers. Marina Goins is attending Pensacola State to play for the Pirates. Yahaira Williams is attending Florida Atlantic University and also playing Division 1 softball for the Owls.