AVON PARK - Three days after the death of one of their starting pitchers in a two-car crash, the South Florida State College softball team is trying to finish out the 2014 season the way she would want it: focused on desire.
According to a Florida Highway Patrol report, SFSC softball pitcher and freshman Lauren Elizabeth Phillips, 19, was killed on State Road 60 east of Clarence Gordon Jr. Road around 12:13 a.m. March 28.
The FHP reported Rolando Silva, 31, of Plant City, was speeding eastbound on S.R. 60 when he lost control of his 2006 BMW and crossed center grass median.
In the median, Silva reportedly collided with a speed limit sign, exited the median, traveled into the westbound lanes of the highway and collided head-on with a 1990 Cadillac driven by Joseph Allie Vizcarrondo, 26, of Valrico, which was traveling westbound.
Silva and Vizcarrondo, as well as Vizcarrondo's passengers, Phillips and Jenna Dawn Kelly, 25, of Sun City Center, died at the scene.
Phillip's death has rattled the team, but given them inspiration to carry on her will, said Rick Hitt, South Florida's athletic director and baseball manager.
He said Phillips had played two National Junior College Athletic Association Suncoast Conference games in the conference season, which is just underway. As of Monday, the team is 2-4 in conference play and 11-25 overall.
Hitt, in his 16th year at South Florida State, said Phillips, who was from Valrico, was in her freshman year of eligibility for the Panthers. He said she was one of the more outgoing of the approximately 60 student-athletes in the athletic department.
"She was a very nice young lady and very personable. At the end of the day, she was one of the kids and they're all very special to us," he said. "They all mean a great deal to the coaches; they're the reason they come to work everyday. When something like this happens, it really takes everybody back. She was a good teammate and she always had something positive to say."
The FHP reported neither driver had a valid driver's license and none of the occupants were wearing seatbelts.
According to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office website, Silva had an arrest record for possession of controlled substance, driving with a suspended license and other charges. He only had an ID card on him at the time of the crash. His driver's license had been revoked, FHP officials said.
Vizcarrondo was driving with a suspended license, according to FHP, and the crash closed westbound lanes on S.R. 60 for almost five hours.
Carlos Falla, SFSC women's softball head coach, said Phillips was a walk-on freshman out of Brandon High School with a lot of drive and desire.
He said she was in the team's three-pitcher rotation, was 3-4 in 12 appearances, pitched 50 and two-thirds innings and gave up 66 hits and 47 runs. He said in the team's first conference game March 20 at home, she "completely shut down" St. Petersburg Junior College.
Falla, in his 10th year at SFSC, said Phillips' mother, Kimberly Jahn, called him with the news at 7:50 a.m. Friday and it was the worst news about a player he has gotten in 20 years of coaching.
"It's the worst day I ever had as a coach. She was always working hard to be the best she could and always cheering her teammates on," he said. "She worked extremely hard every single day and always smiled. She was growing into a good softball player and always wanted to do better."
"We are all deeply saddened and affected by the loss of a fine, young student-athlete such as Lauren Phillips. It is clear from the feelings expressed through our Facebook page that she is in the hearts of all those she touched," said Deborah Bell Latter, SFSC's director of Community Relations and Marketing.
In Phillips' honor, prior to today's 5 p.m. home game against Polk State College, a remembrance ceremony between Phillips' family and players will be held at Panther Field.
The Lady Panthers will present Jahn with Lauren's SFSC jersey. A balloon release follows.
After the doubleheader, the Lady Panthers and family will release Chinese lanterns into the sky. The dedication begins at 4:30 p.m. The softball game begins at 5 p.m., and the second game should begin around 7 p.m.
Hitt said the SFSC athletic department would be attending Phillips' funeral services Wednesday at 11 a.m., with visitation at 10 a.m. at the First Baptist Church, 216 N. Parsons Ave., Brandon.
Kolby Lite, the Panther's first baseman, said Phillips was like the "heart and soul" of the team.
She said no matter how the squad was performing, she reminded everyone they were a team and had to work together, no matter the circumstances, and her drive is what will be most missed.
"She always knew there was room for improvement, and even when we weren't playing well, she always had a positive attitude and always believed in us," said Lite, a sophomore from Arcadia.
In addition, Falla said colleges around the conference and state, such at the University of Central Florida, Orlando, State College of Florida, Manatee, and Santa Fe College, Gainesville, would be holding a moment of silence and remembrance for Phillips at their home games.
According to a story by WFLA Newschannel 8, Phillps' family said she wanted to continue playing at the University of South Florida, was majoring in elementary education and wanted to eventually teach kindergarten. She is survived by her Jahn, and her father, Ray Phillips.