LAND O’LAKES — Makenzie Goluba, having lost a perfect game bid then the lead, savored the chance for redemption. And she jumped all over it.
With River Ridge down a run, the bases loaded and two out Friday, Goluba clobbered a two-run single to give the Royal Knights a thrilling 4-3 victory over Mitchell for the 6A-10 title.
The Royal Knights (26-1) were held to four hits through six innings against Jordan Fowler but put together four in the seventh.
“I knew she had been throwing first-pitch strikes so I was ready,” Goluba said. “I saw it and drove it.”
An unlikely source started the drama. Royal Knights coach Ernie Beck called on Brook Schwaner, a sophomore who has battled sickness much of the season and had totaled six hits, to pinch hit.
“She’s been hitting it well in practice, and I wanted her in that situation,” said Beck.
Schwaner thumped a single down the third-base line.
A strikeout followed then Madisyn Palmer’s grounder to third looked like the second out — until her incredible burst of speed gave her an infield single.
“I put our team in a hole and wanted to make up for it,” she said, critical of herself for not catching the tying hit an inning earlier.
Kenzi Maguire followed with a solid single to load the bases, bringing up Morgan Tolle, who had tripled as the Royal Knights went up 2-0 in the first. But Tolle’s hard liner was snagged by third baseman Samantha Renzetti for the second out.
However, Goluba’s ball to left brought no throw to the plate, with Palmer’s speed getting her home easily.
Mitchell (19-6) lost to River Ridge 7-0 and 11-0 during the regular season and again looked to have nothing going on offense. Fowler, who held down the powerful Knights offense — at one time retiring 13 straight — managed her team’s first hit with one out in the fifth.
In the sixth the Mustangs came to life, although Ryleigh Hill’s leadoff single almost didn’t happen as Brittany Forrise nearly threw her out from rightfield. A one-out error at third set up Renzetti, whose double barely eluded the sprinting, diving Palmer’s glove and it was 2-2.
Kiera Delegro’s bloop single gave the Mustangs the lead.
“That feeling was unbelievable in the dugout,” said Renzetti.
On the other side Goluba said it was “shocking” to lose the lead. She was still miffed at the perfect game going by the wayside.
“But I’ll take the win over that any day.”
5A-7: Leopards' 20th win secures title
BROOKSVILLE — A victory in Friday night’s Class 5A, District 7 championship game wouldn’t only earn Hernando its first title since 2004, it would also give the Leopards their first 20-win season since the program reached the state final four in 2001.
In one of the toughest battles all season, Hernando outlasted Tavares 4-3 in eight innings at Tom Varn Park.
The Leopards were behind 3-1 going into the bottom of the sixth after Bulldog first baseman Stephanie Moorhead singled in a pair of runs in the top half. Hernando (20-7) answered by scoring two to tie it, capped by pitcher Courtney Riddle singling in centerfielder Ashley Sims.
Riddle (eight innings, three strikeouts, two walks, two earned runs) was solid, pounding the strike zone consistently against Tavares (19-7) in the complete-game victory. She outdueled Tavares ace Koral Smith (complete game, seven strikeouts, one walk, three earned runs) and went 3-for-4 with a triple and an RBI.
Sims was the offensive star for the second straight game. She went 3-for-4 and has seven hits for her past eight at-bats. She scored twice Friday, including crossing the plate with the winning run after she was knocked in on a walkoff single by second baseman Summer Solovitch.
Many attributed Hernando’s late offensive success to the lineup’s ability to work Smith hard throughout the game. The Tavares right-hander tossed 138 pitches, far more than what Riddle (93) finished with.
“(Pitch count) is very important,” Riddle said. “Even I get worn down as the game goes on, and I noticed (Smith) didn’t pitch as well as she has in the past.”
Kevin Bittinger, who will be making his first postseason appearance as the team’s coach, wouldn’t take much credit for the result, but his players were quick to point to their coach.
“This means everything to (Bittinger),” said Sims, a two-year captain. “He’s helped us so much since I’ve been here. It’s sweet getting to this point.”
5A-8: Buccaneers warm up, break through
ZEPHYRHILLS — A district title was the furthest thing from coach Rick Hohenthaner’s mind when he took over a downtrodden Gulf program 10 years ago. Now, he feels his team can’t lose.
The Buccaneers defeated Pasco 8-1 in Friday’s Class 5A, District 8 championship game at Zephyrhills, marking the school’s first district title in the fast-pitch era.
“After two years in a row coming up short in the semis, I’ve been waiting for this,” said Hohenthaner, whose lone playoff appearance had been as a district runnerup in 2005.
Just like in Wednesday’s district semifinal, an 8-0 shutout of host Zephyrhills in which Gulf broke open a scoreless game with six runs in the fourth inning, the Bucs took a while to turn up their offense. Trailing 1-0, Gulf scored twice in the fourth on Nikki Sedivy’s two-run home run and added two more in the fifth on Hanna McCarthy’s two-run double.
The Bucs (14-13) clinched the title with a four-run seventh. That inning was set up by a two-out error and highlighted by Sedivy’s three-run homer, her second of the game over the leftfield fence.
“With this team, we’ve had to re-energize ourselves,” said Hohenthaner, alluding to the loss of two injured starters and seven games forfeited because of an academically ineligible player.
The Pirates (17-11) took a 1-0 lead in the third when Amber Caudill’s single drove in Lizzy Burchfield, who reached on her second single. Pasco left the bases loaded in the first and sixth.
Winning pitcher Madison Morlan scattered six hits, two more than she allowed in the win over Zephyrhills.
Correspondents Derek J. LaRiviere and Steve Lee contributed to this report.