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Florio, Stanners trying for second B/Q crown

Sheri Florio's career started with a brush with greatness. And 10 years later, the starting catcher on the Archbishop Molloy softball team is on the verge of achieving the ultimate goal with the Stanners, who are attempting to repeat as CHSAA Brooklyn/Queens Diocesan champions.

Florio is one of the key components of Molloy's title run. Of course, she didn't know that would be the case in 1998 when she played her first game on a Yorkville Little League tee-ball team featuring two of hockey legend Wayne Gretzky's sons. In fact, the Great One himself is in the team picture.

Frank Florio believes his daughter was destined for greatness. Not only is he Sheri's father, but he also coached her for several years in the Yorkville Little League.

But try as he might, Frank couldn't talk Sheri into playing softball for him at Christ the King, like her older sister, Tracey, did. No, Sheri was following her heart to Archbishop Molloy.

"It's just all the enthusiasm and the way they play with passion," she said of the school's teams. "You could tell right away they always wanted to be there and be in it. I just fell in love."

Last year, Sheri played behind Jackie Rafferty, a TimesLedger CHSAA All-Queens first team selection. She'd play sparingly in doubleheaders and tournaments but learned a great deal from Rafferty.

"She had a lot of talent already, but I helped her with the little things, like situational things," Rafferty said. "She thought fast, was smart under pressure and had a very good arm. She just needed to speed up her release."

With Rafferty at Stony Brook this year, Florio has the catching responsibility all to herself. And after battling an illness at the start of the season, she has steadily improved, both offensively and defensively.

"She's a good, strong, solid player," Molloy coach Maureen Rosenbaum said. "She knows the game, she's aware of the situation and she's become more vocal as time has gone on."

Part of that comes from having a softball coach as a father.

"We'll just be home watching baseball games and he'll be like, 'Now see this, watch how the catcher goes in and out or see what pitch he'll use next,'" Sheri said.

Sheri's increased playing time has also led to some awkward moments when Molloy took on Christ the King this year. Frank left a message on Sheri's cell phone the day of the game, playfully telling her that the Stanners were going down.

Instead, Sheri drove in a pair of runs and threw out a runner at second in a Molloy romp.

"I always want to win the game," Frank said. "She knows that and I tell her to do the same thing. 'I'm trying to beat you, you're trying to beat me.' But, of course, inside I always like to see her do well. That's human nature. But not against us."

Sheri didn't rub in the result when she got home that day.

"It's a little weird, naturally," Sheri said. "It's like your father's on the opposing team, but I just put it aside and have fun with it."

After losing a pair of one-run games to St. Francis Prep, Molloy beat the Terriers late in the regular season, ending Prep's bid at an undefeated season. Sheri, as usual, was a big part of the victory. And with Christ the King without a game that day, Frank was able to enjoy it.

"Here," he said from behind the backstop, "I can root for her."

Reach Sports Editor Dylan Butler by e-mail at dbutler@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 143.

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