PINELLAS PARK — Two one-run games. Just what one would expect in the balanced Class 7A, District 9 tournament.
In Wednesday’s first semifinal, East Lake held off Northeast 5-4. In the second, a pitchers’ duel went the way of top-seeded Countryside, 1-0 over Seminole.
Sommer Pollard (two hits, including a double) hit a one-out single to center in the third to score Emily Hollenbeck (single) with the game’s lone run for the Cougars (20-6).
“I was just looking to put the ball in play and get a run home,” Pollard, a senior, said. “This is for bragging rights. It’s definitely important for us to win districts for the third straight time.”
From there, Alyssa Queen (four innings, two hits) and Stella Preston (three innings, one hit) slammed the door. Only one Seminole player (Jordan Day, who doubled) reached third base as the pair threw just 55 pitches over seven innings.
“I just didn’t want (Seminole) to see the same pitches. It keeps them off balance,” Cougars coach Kaylyn Bayly said of the pitching change. “Stella’s a gamer. She’s just a sophomore, but she steps out there and throws with confidence.”
Brooke McEntire allowed three hits and two walks and struck out three for Seminole (15-8).
In the opener, East Lake coach Kristie Delk was happy to be proved wrong.
“I told them that five runs wasn’t enough,” Delk said of a second-inning explosion and big early lead.
Northeast rallied. But sophomore pitcher Diana Rayder shut the door.
Looking to avenge two regular-season losses to the second-seeded Vikings (16-7), No. 3 East Lake (14-7) surged out front behind aggressive baserunning from speedster Aliyah Andrews and timely hitting from Katie Shoulta (double) and Amy Smith (single).
Rayder held Northeast to two hits through five innings, but patient production from Relynn Capra and Lizzy Bench cut the gap to two in the sixth. Then Ashley McNally drove in Janae Duty with a two-out single in the sixth before Rayder came up huge one final time.
“She’s kept us in every game,” Delk said of the sophomore. “She’s the hardest worker on the team, and she’s very coachable. I’m very proud of her.”
8A-8: After a three-game losing streak to end the regular season, host Palm Harbor University was searching for answers on how to get its once-powerful offense back on track.
The Hurricanes had a players meeting, switched up routines, anything to find some sort of rhythm. It worked as PHU recorded 10 hits in a 12-5 victory over Bradenton Manatee in the semifinals.
The Hurricanes (17-6) will play at Sarasota Riverview in tonight’s final. The Rams advanced by beating St. Petersburg 5-3.
Trailing 5-2, the Hurricanes rallied by batting around and scoring four runs in the fifth to take the lead for good. In the sixth inning, PHU sent 11 batters up and added six more runs.
“We had lost our focus for a couple of games and needed to find a way to get it back,” said Hurricanes pitcher Logyn Lilley, who was 3-for-4 and scored twice. “It was nice to go out there and take out our anger.”
Eight players had at least one hit. Alayna Gallagher, Brittany Lennon and Baily Wilson had two. Lilley settled down on the mound, retiring five of the final six batters she faced.
The win was meaningful for Gallagher, Lennon and Rachel Taylor, the seniors on the team who secured their fourth consecutive playoff berth.
“Our motivation was to get back to playing well and keep our season going,” Taylor said.
6A-10: Host and overwhelming favorite Mitchell did the expected, but the other semifinal featured a bit of a surprise. The Mustangs topped Dixie Hollins 6-3 and will face No. 3 seed Osceola, which routed Springstead 14-4. The Warriors are 12-13 but headed to the playoffs with Mitchell. The two meet in the final at 7 tonight.
Mitchell (23-3) scored a pair of unearned runs in the first and later jumped to a 5-0 lead. That was enough for Jordan Fowler, who struck out seven in a four-hitter. She added a deep, run-scoring hit for a 6-2 lead.
Meanwhile, Osceola coach Jerry King went to extreme measures to prepare his batters for its opponent.
“We had our hitters go up against the left-handed (pitching) machine. I think they got about 500 swings each,” he said.
The Warriors looked plenty ready for Springstead lefty Louisa Disi, collecting 15 hits, including four straight in the first for a 3-0 lead.
Singles by Becca Bunday and MacKenna Willis were followed by a double from Hannah Ciatto to make it 2-0. Rae Piscitello doubled to make it 3-0. It would have been 5-0 on another double by Lindsey Hall, but Ciatto was ruled to have not touched home plate.
That ended up not mattering thanks to Warriors pitcher Sarah Huskey. The lefty injured her back a few weeks ago and had been eased back into duty.
“I felt awesome. I was excited to face them,” said Huskey, who did not pitch in either regular-season game against Springstead, which Osceola lost 11-6 and 7-4.
She was helped by a big defensive play ending the third. With the lead at 3-1 but the bases loaded, Huskey gave up a hard liner to Shelbi Ard. But it was flagged down by charging centerfielder Olivia McCoy.
Huskey gave up five hits, a total Osceola surpassed as a team in the seven-run seventh inning alone. McCoy, Katie Newman, Willis and Piscitello went 3-for-5 for Osceola with Newman driving in a run in each of her last three at-bats. Ciatto went 2-for-5 with three RBIs. Piscitello had two hits in the seventh inning, the second driving in a pair.
The Warriors didn’t have the reaction of a team that had pulled an upset.
“Last year, we had Lakewood Ranch and Palmetto in our district,” King said. “This year, we gave (Springstead) a game both times we played them.”
Mitchell beat Osceola 12-2 and 8-3 during the regular season while rolling to an 8-0 district record.
5A-10: For the second time this month, Boca Ciega played Lakewood tough. But much like its 3-0 loss on April 3, it couldn’t get a run on Mariah Watts when it had chances and fell 10-0 in a semifinal. The Spartans (15-10) will host Bradenton Bayshore in today’s final.
Watts didn’t have her best stuff but struck out 11 and allowed three hits. Angelina Carney’s three-run homer to left-center broke open a close game.
Lakewood took advantage of poor fielding in the first to take a 1-0 lead when Sarah Snell scored from second on an error. The Spartans increased the lead to 2-0 on Snell’s RBI single in the second that scored Mara Brody.
Boca Ciega had a golden opportunity to apply pressure on the heavily favored Spartans in the third with runners on second and third and one out. But Watts settled down and retired the final two batters to keep the game 2-0.
Lakewood broke things open in the fourth when Elinor Gale’s RBI single scored Andrea Vargas and Carney crushed a 1-aned-1 pitch to left-center that gave the Spartans a 6-0 advantage.
3A-9: Clearwater Central Catholic secured its first playoff berth since 1995 with a 7-2 win over Indian Rocks Christian at the Eddie C. Moore complex. The Marauders face top-seeded Calvary Christian at 7 tonight in the final of the three-team tournament. Julia Ryan went 2-for-3 and Kayla Lewandowski and Tiffany St. Lifer tripled for CCC. The game was called in the sixth after an IRC player collapsed because of a heart condition and was rushed to the emergency room as a precaution.
3A-10: To break out of a slump, St. Petersburg Catholic coach Tom Fabian brought out a pitching machine that threw curveballs. It paid off as the No. 2-seeded Barons beat No. 1 Admiral Farragut 8-7 in the final at Shorecrest. “It was just a matter of the girls gaining more confidence,” Fabian said. “We struggled early. But once we started making contact, the hits kept coming.” Anna Mixa had three hits, including a double and a homer for SPC. Caroline Carpenter and Lena Trehy had two hits for the Barons. Corynn Miner hit a three-run homer for Farragut.
2A-8: Defending state champion and host Canterbury had little trouble advancing in a 15-0 win over Hernando Christian in a semifinal called after four innings because of the mercy rule. The Crusaders play Lakeside Christian, a 15-4 winner over Bayshore Christian, at 6 tonight. Taylor Bump, Hailey Hopkins, Maddie Posey and Danielle Romanello hit home runs for Canterbury.
Times staff writer Bob Putnam and correspondents Corey Long and Darek Sharp contributed to this report.