District softball: East Bay 4, Bloomingdale 3
VALRICO — As Kylan Armstrong stood on second base in the seventh inning Wednesday, she thought of the mistake.
Six frames earlier, the East Bay senior and Piedmont (Ga.) College signee had been easily nabbed at the plate trying to score from second to end the first. And for what seemed like forever, the Indians had failed to get anywhere close to doing so again, coming up empty time after time against Bloomingdale ace Alexys Lawson.
Then came the sixth. Down three in the Class 8A, District 6 semifinal, the Indians dramatically rallied to knot it up. And one inning later, Armstrong's shot at redemption came after she reached on a fielding error. This time, there was no need to worry.
By the time Rachel Kingery's one-out rocket landed over the head of the centerfielder, Armstrong was already cruising home. With shrieks of joy echoing from the visitor's dugout, she scored to lift third-seeded East Bay to a wild 4-3 upset, putting it back in the playoffs for the first time in two years.
The Indians (17-8) face No. 1 Plant City in Friday's final. The Raiders defeated Durant 5-2 in the early game.
"It's just really exciting," Armstrong said. "I was just so glad my teammates were able to pick me up from the mistake I made earlier. It shows that we've really got each other's backs."
As the Bulls (16-9) jumped to a 3-0 advantage, scoring in the second, fourth and fifth, East Bay's outlook was bleak. Lawson, who fanned 11, didn't seem fazed by anything, mowing through the Indians' lineup for what seemed to be a sure shutout.
But East Bay's seniors had something to say about it.
"Those five seniors did not want this to come to an end," longtime Indians coach Glenn Rodriguez said, "and I could hear them in the dugout. They were really coaching and pushing the team.
"I was starting to wonder, though."
Eventually, that belief turned into a breakthrough.
Kingery doubled with one out in the sixth and was singled home two batters later. Then, after Juliana Uribe scored following a two-strike, two-out passed ball, Jesseanne Ackerman tied it on Jocelin Beltran's infield single.
That set up Kingery's big swing, and Armstrong's hustle home to seal it.
"I just saw us having a chance to come back," Armstrong said. "It was meant to be."
Following a quick round of celebratory sprints and a group hug, East Bay's players grabbed an orange Gatorade cooler and headed toward Rodriguez. Knowing what was next, he removed his phone from his shorts pocket, turned and let the inevitable ice-water bath rush over his white photo shirt.
The cold feeling of victory — this one, especially — couldn't be beat.
"Hey, they wanted to play one more," he said with a smile. "So we're going to play one more."