TAMPA — Sickles pitcher Nichole Lewis frustrated Chamberlain batters into popups and fly balls for the better part of Friday’s 5A-9 district championship.
But the first and last hitters who went airborne were the only ones who mattered.
Junior third baseman Ellen Scott slammed a home run off the scoreboard in left centerfield with one out in the bottom of the seventh inning as the perennial power Chiefs defeated Sickles 2-1 and reclaimed the district crown they’ve dominated since 1997.
Chamberlain (20-5) will host Punta Gorda Charlotte in region quarterfinal play next week, while the Gryphons (20-8) must travel to Naples to face 5A-10 champ Gulf Coast.
Scott’s walk-off winner made for the perfect bookend for Lindsey Hagberg’s homer to lead off the first for Chamberlain. In between, Lewis got 14 of the 19 Chiefs batters to sky out and struck out two more. Lewis allowed only four hits, but two of them were big ones.
“She has good movement on her pitch and doesn’t throw it very hard — and we knew that — so you have to nickle and dime her,” said Chamberlain coach Bob Diez, whose team is back in the playoffs for the 14th time in the past 15 seasons after being upset in the district semifinals a year ago.
“It took a couple long fly balls, but I’ll take it.”
Sickles, which fell one game shy of the state semifinals last year, had its chances against the Chamberlain duo of Amber Fullwood and Rachel Dwyer. The Gryphons had six hits and left runners on base in all seven innings, including two in the fifth (when they scored their lone run) and two in the seventh.
“We just couldn’t get ’em in,” Sickles coach Phil Giarrizzo said. “But we definitely hit it well.”
Chamberlain didn’t hit it well. Only when it needed to most.
“I was just trying to make contact and get on base,” Scott said. “But then I drove it really hard.”
All the way to another district title.