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TAMPA — Any surprises in the 5A-9 softball tournament will have to come in today’s title game.
Sickles pounded out 10 hits, half coming in the decisive five-run fourth inning, and moved into the championship round with a 9-1 district semifinal defeat of Gaither on Thursday.
The Gryphons (20-7), who came two outs from a shutout, will face host and perennial power Chamberlain for the district title at 1 p.m. The Chiefs (19-5), stunned in last season’s semis, advanced with a 4-3 win over Freedom.
Sickles senior centerfielder Mya Anderson reached base on all four of her at-bats, scored three runs and knocked in two more. Junior Nichole Lewis put down the first eight Cowboys she faced en route to scattering eight hits and coming within a ninth-inning homer by slugger Morgan Litchfield of a shutout.
“We came focused tonight,” Gryphons coach Phil Giarrizzo said.
Sickles, the No. 2 seed, jumped to a 2-0 lead in the first when Anderson led off with a walk and scored on Megin Eskew’s single. She scored with the help of a throwing error and wild pitch courtesy of the mistake-prone Cowboys (11-13).
Gaither threatened in the fourth, with runners on first and second with just one away, but pinch-runner Dakota Thomason was called out for leaving second base early on a pitch to Cailin Milne. The gaffe proved costly as Milne and Aja Osborne followed with singles, loading the bases, but Lewis got Loni Campbell on a groundout to end the inning.
Sickles then answered with its big fourth, keyed by doubles from Anderson, Devon Morrison and Ashley Weisman, to take a 7-0 lead.
Litchfield’s shot to dead-center — her Hillsborough County-leading 10th of the season — came with one out in the seventh and turned out to be the lone highlight for Gaither, which last season stunned Chamberlain in the semifinals and kept the Chiefs from the state tournament for the only time since 1997.
Coach Bob Diez and his troops will be back this year, thanks to a four-run second inning that proved to be enough — though barely — after the Patriots (11-7) failed to get tying run home from first in the seventh.
The Chiefs defeated the Gryphons 5-0 and 2-1 during the regular season. Does Sickles have a chance at a postseason upset of Chamberlain a la the Cowboys a year ago?
“No,” Gaither assistant coach Cliff Litchfield said. “If you’re going to beat Bobby, you’re going to have to have your best game of the year.”