FORT MYERS, Fla.- The Florida SouthWestern State Softball team was in the midst of another record breaking season in 2020 when it was abruptly ended due to the COVID-19 Pandemic. The Buccaneers had built up a 23-2 overall record as they approached the midway point of the season while earning wins over both the defending National Champion Chipola Indians and the nation's #2 ranked team in Central Florida.
Coming off of a 54-3 2019 season and returning the bulk of their offense, FSW had high expectations for 2020, opening the season ranked #2 in the NJCAA Preseason Poll.
The Bucs were as advertised early on, outscoring their first three opponents 33-1 in three straight run rule victories to open the year 3-0.
The competition ramped up for FSW on week two of the season as they headed North to Dothan, Alabama and the NFCA Kick off Classic. In their first game of the weekend the Bucs played their first seven inning game of the year, dispatching of Northwest Florida State 9-3, but later in the day they dropped their first contest of the year, falling 5-4 in extra innings to #5 Salt Lake. The loss ignited the Bucs fire once again and on the second day of the classic they earned two wins over ranked opponents, first dropping #19 Southern Idaho 7-5 before run ruling #14 Chattanooga State 9-0 to close the weekend 6-1.
The Bucs got it rolling from there, crushing Miami Dade 14-1 and 9-0 in a double header, followed by 15-1, 14-2 wins over ASA Miami the following week to improve to 10-1.
A matchup against NAIA Ave Maria was up next for the Bucs and FSW took their talents to Naples for a neutral site contest between the two. The Bucs hammered the Gyrenes, scoring three or more runs in all four offensive innings for an 18-1 game one win before taking game two 13-0 to wrap up their seventh straight run rule victory.
A trip to Sanford, and the location of the FCSAA State Tournament was on the docket next for the Bucs and they continued their winning ways, blanking Santa Fe 8-0 in game one of the tournament before dropping Florida State College at Jacksonville 8-1 in game two to go to 14-1 on the year. Including the two wins, FSW outscored their last nine opponents 108-6.
Day two of the tournament pitted the Bucs against a pair of Panhandle Conference foes and in game one, they had little trouble with Tallahassee in a 12-4 win to set up a much anticipated dual with in-state rival and Defending National Champions Chipola in game two. Rookies took over for the Bucs in their first experiences with the Indians as Feline Poot homered twice and drove in four while Alyssa O'Donnell twirled a complete game as the Bucs downed Chipola 8-4 to claim their 12th consecutive victory.
At week's end, a pair of Bucs were honored by the FCSAA as Haley Ellefson was named the state's Pitcher of the Week with a 4-0 record and a 0.00 ERA on the week while Natavia Ellis was named both the FCSAA and NJCAA National Player of the Week after hitting .714 with two home runs and 16 RBIs for FSW on the week.
It was another doozy for FSW to close February as they took on #2 Central Florida at City of Palms Park in a rematch of the 2019 FCSAA State Championship game in a contest that featured two teams with a combine 39-1 record. Game one was a back and forth affair with FSW jumping ahead 5-2 before Central tied it up at 5-5 with a three run 5th. The Bucs answered right back in the bottom half of the frame when Pallas Potter blasted a three run shot to put FSW back in front 8-5. That was the score with two outs in the top of the 7th as the Bucs looked to close things out, but four consecutive hits for the Patriots evened the score and sent the game to the bottom of the 7th tied at 8. It set the stage for a storybook ending as Lindsey Corbin stepped to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs in the bottom of the 7th and crushed a 1-1 pitch over the center field wall for a grand slam to send City of Palms Park into a fury and giving FSW a walk off 12-8 victory. In game two, a pair of early home runs for the Patriots staked them out to a 5-0 lead and the Bucs never recovered in a 7-5 Central Florida win to split the doubleheader.
A six game homestand was up next for the Bucs and they made the most of it. Their first twinbill was against Michigan's Kalamazoo Valley and they took care of them 5-1 in game one before racking up 16 runs in four innings in game two for a 16-0 run rule win.
Miami Dade came calling next and it was more of the same, Haley Ellefson homered three times and drove in eight while also throwing a complete game in the circle in a 13-5 game one win for the Bucs. In game two Ellefson drove in two more to give her 10 on the day as the Bucs won 11-2 to complete the sweep.
In what ended up being their final time out in 2020, the Bucs hosted Lincoln Trail for the first time in program history one day later. Game one was over before it started as FSW sent 18 batters to the plate in the first inning, scoring 12 run in route to a 13-1 win. In game two they used a seven run 4th to come away with a 10-2 run rule win to go to 23-2 on the year.
In their final five games in March, the FSW offense scored 63 runs in just 21 offensive innings.
Ellefson was honored for the second time on the season with an FCSAA weekly award as after being named Pitcher of the Week earlier in the year, she was tabbed the Player of the Week, hitting .833 with three home runs and 12 RBIs in just six official at bats on the week. O'Donnell joined her on the podium as she was named the state's Pitcher of the Week with five shutout innings and 10 strikeouts in the circle for the Bucs.
With their non-conference schedule just about complete and Suncoast Conference play just days ahead of them, the Bucs received word that their season would be put on hold due to COVID-19 before ultimately seeing the cancellation of the rest of the year due to the Pandemic.
The Bucs finish the 2020 season 23-2 overall and ranked #3 in the final NJCAA National Poll of the year. Things were shaping up to be a fun fight to the finish for FSW and the rest of the FCSAA in 2020 as five of the top seven spots in the National Poll were occupied by Sunshine State squads who had combined for a 143-9 record at the time of the stoppage.
The Bucs put up some eye popping numbers, both as a team and individually on the year. FSW hit .434 as a team which was second nationally while six lineup regulars hit over .400 and three hit over .500. Freshman Taylor Jensen ended up as the Bucs' top hitter, finishing the year hitting .552 with four home runs and 22 RBIs in 22 games. Ellis hit .548 with 19 extra base hits and 42 RBIs in just 24 contests while Rebeca Laudino was an on base machine at the top of the lineup, hitting .532 while scoring a team best 36 runs in 25 games. In the circle Sara Clontz led FSW with a 0.89 ERA in 31 1/3 innings pitched while Ellefson led the club with 11 wins and Emily Perrin paced the Bucs averaging 9.71 strikeouts per seven innings pitched.
As of mid-April, Laudino and Ellefson are the only two FSW sophomores signed at four year institutions with Laudino heading to the Bayou to play for Division I powerhouse Louisiana-Lafayette while Ellefson will play in the Big 10 with Maryland next season.
With the season stopped prematurely, the NJCAA, NCAA, and NAIA have worked together to not charge any Softball, or other Spring Sport student-athletes, with a year of eligibility, meaning all players can return to their schools, or transfer, and retain the same athletic classification year as they played with this season.