PINELLAS PARK — East Lake decided it would not go quietly for the rest of the season.
In Thursday’s Class 7A, District 9 title game, the Eagles pitched, hit and darted around the bases. The team that struggled for traction through a miserable late regular-season stretch against district opponents regained its grip with a 8-7 victory over rival Countryside.
“I’m so proud of the way the team came back and played well the last few games,” East Lake coach Kristie Delk said.
It was especially meaningful for Ashley Bonalewicz and Hannah Roberts, the senior starters whose last district title came three years ago as freshmen.
On Thursday, they each played a pivotal role on offense. Bonalewicz hit a three-run home run in the first inning, and Roberts had a two-run homer in the third as the Eagles (16-6) jumped out to an 8-2 lead.
The top-seeded Cougars (20-7) rallied with a run in the third and two more in the fifth to make it 8-5. Countryside also was helped by a defense that turned in double plays to get out of bases-loaded jams in the fourth and fifth innings.
In the bottom of the seventh, East Lake was trying to hold on through heavy rain that halted the game for about 10 minutes. Eagles starter Diana Rayder had a hard time gripping the ball in the wet conditions. She tried to dry the ball in her glove and motioned to the dugout to provide a new ball every few pitches.
The Cougars took advantage with two runs to cut the deficit to 8-7. Still, Rayder found a way to bear down with a strikeout on a full count to end the game.
“That last inning was so intense,” Rayder said. “I just had to find a way to get through the rain. The rosin bag I had with me was a life saver.”
Aliyah Andrews was 4-for-4 and Maddie Bertisch 3-for-4 for the Eagles. Countryside was led by Keeley Mayers, who was 4-for-4, including a two-run homer in the first inning.
6A-10: The wind was blowing out, and it showed on the scoreboard. Kassidy Neptune hit a pair of two-run homers as host Mitchell handled Osceola 13-8 in the final.
The teams combined for 24 hits. Mitchell led 7-0 in the second and looked headed to a mercy-rule rout before Osceola fought back to within 10-7.
Neptune used an inside-out swing, right into the jet stream heading to the rightfield corner, for her second homer and 7-0 lead.
Neptune’s third hit, an RBI single in the seventh, was followed by RBI singles from Kelsea Vanderveer and Samantha Renzetti.
Held to one hit through three innings, Osceola caught up to Madison Staniloiu. The Warriors collected eight hits while scoring a combined seven runs in the fourth and fifth.
MacKenna Willis started the comeback with a single. Malorie Wallace singled to load the bases, and Lindsey Hall’s base hit made it 7-1. A wild pitch added a run and Olivia’s McCoy’s double plated two more.
Becca Bunday singled to lead off the fifth and scored on Rae Piscitello’s infield hit. Hall and Maria Kappos followed with RBI singles cutting the margin to three.
“They did not give up, gave us a very good game,” Neptune said. “I didn’t think it was going to be easy.”
And after sophomore Sarah Huskey set the Mustangs down in order to end the fifth, the Warriors sprinted off the field, having all the momentum. But Jordan Fowler answered with a 1-2-3 sixth punctuated by her first strikeout.
Staniloiu didn’t get the win, pulled when it was 7-1 with one out in the fourth. But her two-run homer made it 9-4 in the fourth.
Mitchell (24-3) chased Osceola starter Katie Newman in the second. Huskey pitched the final five innings for the Warriors (12-4).
McCoy was 3-for-4 for the Warriors. Hannah Ciatto earned three of her team’s five walks.
5A-8: Aubrey Ehlers gave up a run in the first but drove in two herself. That gave Dunedin a lead that held up — but just barely.
A late Land O’Lakes rally fell short as the Falcons held on 4-3 at River Ridge to advance to the final and clinch a third straight region playoff berth.
The Falcons jumped out to a 4-1 lead then survived three hits by the Gators in the sixth.
“That was really big getting out in front,” Dunedin coach Sarah Broeseker said. “When we played Land O’Lakes the first time, it was a 2-0 game and very tight. The girls did a nice job tonight.”
After the Gators (13-13) took a 1-0 lead in the first, Taylor Scott walked and Abbie Sexton reached on an error to put runners on second and third. Ehlers drove both home with a base hit.
Sexton doubled in the third and scored on Tiona Hill’s single, and Alexis Talley drove in Hill with a hit to make it 4-1.
But a couple of two-out hits in the sixth for Land O’Lakes — double by Morgan Horne and single by Sierra Holt — pulled the Gators within 4-3.
Ehlers got out of that jam then struck out two batters in the seventh to wrap up her 17th victory of the season.
The Falcons (17-5) face River Ridge, which beat the Falcons 1-0 and 6-0 during the season, for the district title this morning.
The Royal Knights got a two-hitter from Makenzie Goluba and a home run from Kenzi Maguire to post a 6-0 win over Sunlake.
River Ridge (24-3) advanced to its ninth straight district championship game and 13th in the past 14 seasons.
5A-10: Rain postponed the final at Lakewood. The game against Bradenton Bayshore was called in the top of the sixth inning Thursday with the score tied at 0. Lakewood will decide this morning when the final will resume.
3A-9: Calvary Christian, the top seed in the tournament, won its first district title, cruising to an 11-1 victory over Clearwater Central Catholic. Rachel Hunt pitched a complete game, allowing two hits while striking out six. She also produced at the plate with two hits and two RBIs. Teammate Gaby Alvarado had four hits and three RBIs. In all, the Warriors had 16 hits.
2A-8: Canterbury, expected by many to win the Class 2A title, put on a power hitting display in Thursday’s district final against Lakeside Christian that even impressed coach Jody Moore.
The Crusaders (18-6) hit four home runs as part of a 12-run first inning and rolled to their ninth consecutive district title with a 16-1 victory over Lakeland Christian.
“I know we have some very good hitters on this team and we’ve been working hard at pitch selection,” Moore said. “In the past we’ve had games where we’ve hit a couple of home runs but this was good to see.”
Hailey Hopkins, Maddie Posey, Taylor Bump and Danielle Romanello hit home runs in the first inning as the Crusaders had eight extra-base hits to quickly end any hopes of an upset.
While Lakeside Christian (7-12) didn’t have much success keeping Crusaders off base, they did manage to scratch across a run in the second inning to avoid a shutout.
“They put together a couple of nice at-bats and it got us refocused because we don’t like being scored on,” Moore said.
An RBI double by Bump and another homer from Hopkins in the second inning got Canterbury back on track. And an RBI single from Kama Woodall in the bottom of the fourth inning closed out the game.
Moore said she’s happy with her team’s focus going into the state tournament and has kept an eye on the programs that could provide the stiffest competition.
“I know Cambridge has an excellent pitcher and Central Florida Christian has a solid team, but we’re just going to stay in our lane and play our game,” Moore said. “We’re going to celebrate Easter, and Monday we’ll get ready for our first game in the regionals.”
Times staff writer John C. Cotey and correspondents Darek Sharp and Corey Long contributed to this report.