AVON PARK - Carlos Falla knows that a solid pitching staff is vital to having success in softball. And this year, the South Florida State College coach says he has the depth he's been waiting for.
"Pitching is key in any hard-ball sport," Falla said. "We've got a little bit more depth this year. We can move people around this year if we do have girls get hurt - several girls play multiple positions - which makes it easier to rest people and have someone fill in for an injured player until they get back."
"We've got one returning sophomore pitcher - and so many we added - and then four other kids behind her we can throw, so we're good there."
With the added depth comes a bevy of youth. The Panthers have nine freshmen on this year's roster. But Falla is optimistic that they'll have an immediate impact on the team despite their relative inexperience.
"There's a lot of fresh faces this season," Falla said. "There's only six returning sophomores. But we do have Jayme Faircloth, who transferred over from Broward College."
Faircloth, a Sebring native, was a multi-sport standout for the Blue Streaks. She was a three-time first team all county selection for both softball and soccer, and helped guide Sebring to a softball district championship in 2012.
"She played at Broward," Falla said. "So she's got a year under her belt and knows what it's like to play at the college level."
And speed shouldn't be an issue for the nine new faces. Falla says the group adds some much needed agility to the team.
"I think we stole more bases this fall than we did all of last season," Falla said. "The freshmen bring in a lot of speed. We're really, really good at running the bases. We can turn six kids to the left side of the plate, so we can slap, bunt, power-slap, and hit away from the left side, which gives us a little more depth in our offense."
But it's not all about softball with Falla. He wants his players to improve themselves even when they're not in action on Panther Field.
"Our team goal is to just be better all-around," he said. "Both on the field, in the classroom, and in the community. Just try to be better."
The tiny details matter to Falla, too.
"Take care of the little things," he tells his team. "Don't procrastinate. Do all of the little things that will make you better as an individual and us as a team."
Falla's confident that if the girls stick to his message, good things will come.
"It's just maintaining that focus and being dedicated to your teammates and trying to do the best you can every time you come out."
The Panthers open their season today in Avon Park with a game against Lake Sumter State College. The opening pitch gets tossed out at 5 p.m. The second game begins at 7 p.m.
SFSC will head to St. Petersburg for the annual Kickoff Classic, before returning home Tuesday to begin the season in earnest against Palm Beach State College.
"They worked hard all fall," Falla said. "We started a little bit with some light conditioning and batting and throwing, trying to get their arms back in shape. We only had two hours with them over a four-day period, but now we're ready to get a good jump-start on the season.