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TAMPA — Palm Harbor University had so many runners on early, the basepaths looked like nearby Dale Mabry Highway. Plant played the good traffic cop, handling every situation flawlessly.
Plant senior right-hander Miranda Clark escaped scoring threats in each of the first three innings, and Kaitlyn Steckel’s two-run double sparked a three-run third as Plant (15-9) won 4-1 Wednesday night in the Class 6A region quarterfinals. The Panthers face Sarasota on Friday.
“That was huge,” said Plant coach Melissa Sigmon, referring to her team’s Houdini act. PHU had runners on second and third in the first two innings, and a runner on second in the third — all with no out. But the Hurricanes (21-6) failed to score each time.
“I can’t explain it,” PHU coach Chuck Poetter said. “When you don’t put the ball in play and you’re swinging at balls out of the strike zone … It was a lackadaisical effort.”
The key play came in the second. Called a “rally killer” by Sigmon, Plant rightfielder Rachel Hampton caught Jessica Adams’ fly ball and threw out Moriah Connolly, who was trying to score from third for a double play.
The Panthers bunched four of their six hits in the third to take the lead. Steckel doubled off the right-centerfield fence, scoring Samantha Lastres and Sydney Socher. Victoria Romaine’s single scored Steckel.
Clark (10-5) yielded only an unearned run in the fifth. She gave up three hits, struck out nine and threw first-pitch strikes to 17 of the first 21 batters.
“The good thing about Miranda is that she bears down and battles out,” Sigmon said. “And that’s exactly what she did.”