BROOKSVILLE — Two state-ranked foes put on a show Thursday night in the Class 5A, District 7 championship game at Tom Varn Park.
After splitting the season series, Hernando bested Nature Coast 6-5 despite a final-inning scare.
“Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” Hernando coach Kevin Bittinger said. “Things happen in games like this, and we were able to battle through it.”
Down 6-1 heading into the top of the seventh, the Sharks (22-4) finally got the bats going. Chyloe Gonzalez laced a bases-loaded triple into the gap between center and rightfield, followed by Courtney David hitting the left-centerfield gap for an RBI double.
With two outs and the tying run in scoring position, Hernando ace Courtney Riddle (25-1) buckled down and struck out Brittany Rodriguez to seal the victory. Prior to the final inning, the senior was at her usual best, including four 1-2-3 innings. She struck out three and walked two.
“It’s very nerve-racking pitching in (title games),” Riddle said, “but you have to buckle down and do the job.”
Hernando (25-2) gained a major advantage at the plate early. In the third inning with the score tied at 1, Summer Solovitch lined a two-run homer over the fence in left-centerfield off Nature Coast starter Abbey Primavera (12-4).
“I’ve been in a slump the past couple games,” Solovitch said, “but I saw the ball well (Thursday).”
Alyssa Gonzalez retired all seven batters she faced in relief of Primavera, but the damage was done. The win gave the Leopards its second straight district title.
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.
“I knew it had a chance with the wind,” she said. “I thought I muscled it enough.”
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 Stanilou. The Warriors collected eight hits while scoring a combined seven runs in the fourth and fifth. Olivia McCoy, whose two-run double made it 7-4 in the fourth, made a bid for a tying three-run homer in her next at-bat but got too underneath it.
“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.
Stanilou 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).
Kiera Delegro went 2-for-2 with two walks for Mitchell, and Erin Brown had two singles.
McCoy was 3-for-4 for the Warriors. Hannah Ciatto earned three of her team’s five walks.
7A-8: Gaither and Steinbrenner brought more than good pitching to the semifinals. They added lots of drama.
Top-seeded and host Gaither survived a seventh-inning rally by Wiregrass Ranch — the tying run at third — for a 4-3 victory. Earlier, No. 2 Steinbrenner snapped a scoreless tie with three unearned runs in the sixth and Kellee Ramsey threw a complete-game five-hitter in a 3-0 win against Freedom.
The final is at 1 p.m. Saturday.
Up 4-0, Gaither (15-5) appeared to be on cruise control. Sammi Grat was working on a five-hit shutout and had retired the first two batters in the seventh. She then got Strike 3 on Megan Miller. But the ball eluded the catcher, and Miller reached first.
The Bulls (13-12) loaded the bases on an error and single. Samantha Hiley followed with a three-run double and reached third on a throwing error on the play. But Grat induced a ground ball from the next batter to end the game.
“That was intensity in the last inning, wasn’t it?” Gaither coach Jerry Murray said. “I said three things to my team: ‘Focused all game, intensity all game and perseverance until the end.’ That’s what made us a winner.”
Alex Robbins’ two-run double in the sixth put Gaither up 4-0.
“It’s not easy when you wait until late to try to come back,” Wiregrass Ranch coach Eddie Melendez said.
In the first game, Ramsey was locked in a pitchers’ duel with Freedom’s Grace Street until the sixth, when Steinbrenner (13-8) took advantage of three errors by Freedom (12-10). Erica Serafini, who had the Warriors’ only two hits, singled home Karsen Barnes with two outs for a 1-0 lead. The other two runs scored on errors.
“I’ve been having a rough time at the plate,” Serafini said. “I was thinking I need to hit the ball no matter what. (Street) plays on my travel ball team, and I know where she pitches.”
Steinbrenner turned double plays in the third and sixth.
“We haven’t won our first game in district in a couple years, so this is a good win for us,” Steinbrenner coach Colleen Sanders said. “I think this is going to build our team confidence.”
5A-8: Sophomore Anessa Holes knows the common perception of a rightfielder: a team’s weakest link, stuck where, hopefully, the ball won’t be hit. But is that the case at River Ridge?
“Nope,” said Holes, the Royal Knight rightfielder.
Twice, Sunlake ripped shots to rightfield, and both times, Holes came up throwing, turning hits into outs and helping host River Ridge preserve a 6-0 victory in the semifinals.
“It’s something we work on a lot,” Holes said. “I don’t get a lot of balls hit to me out there. But we’ve done that about five or six times this year.”
But never twice in the same inning — on back-to-back plays. Holes’ assists in the sixth inning ended any hopes the Seahawks had of rallying.
“I heard a fan say I didn’t know you could play seven infielders,” said River Ridge coach Ernie Beck, chuckling.
It wasn’t the only misfortune for Sunlake. Its first two hitters of the game reached to make it first and third. But Mikayla Cochran inadvertently hit the ball twice with her bat for the first out, and Makenzie Goluba struck out the next two batters.
“I think that hurt them,” Beck said, “especially when we came back with two runs that same inning.”
Goluba (22-3) allowed only two more baserunners, but neither advanced past first in a complete-game two-hitter.
She got all the offense she needed in the first on Melissa Moore’s two-run single.
Kenzi Magure hit her seventh home run in the third, and Madisyn Palmer added an RBI single in the fifth.
River Ridge will play for the district title for the ninth straight season and 13th time in the past 14 seasons when they meet Dunedin this morning.
The Falcons (17-5) held off Land O’Lakes 4-3 in the other semifinal. Aubrey Ehlers had a two-run single in the first and pitched a complete game for Dunedin.
Ehlers gave up seven hits. Three came in the sixth as the Gators (13-13) scored twice to make it 4-3. But she had nine strikeouts, two in the final inning, to help the Falcons clinch a region playoff berth for the third straight year.
2A-7: Academy at the Lakes’ Alexis Kilfoyl had a lot to prove in the final against Cambridge Christian. In the teams’ previous meeting, April 3, the Wildcats’ only pitcher was worn out after a travel tournament the previous weekend and struggled, walking 10 in a 3-1 loss.
Thursday, though, that was a distant memory. The seventh-grader took a no-hitter into the sixth and struck out a season-high 12 in visiting AATL’s 5-1 victory over the Lancers that clinched their third straight title.
“She had her emotions under control,” Wildcats coach Jerry English said. “She had a little rest, and she … pitched a great game.”
AATL’s offense backed Kilfoyl’s gem against Cambridge sophomore Alea White. USF oral commit Lauren Evans smashed a triple to right in the first and scored on a single by Rebecca Hannah to give the Wildcats (14-3) an early lead.
Skyler Boynton scored on a wild pitch in the third, and AATL added a run in the fourth on a fielding error — one of six by Cambridge (15-5) — to make it 3-0.
Hannah capped the scoring in the sixth with a hit to center that drove in Evans (intentional walk) and Sierra Barr-Benjamin (single).
Megan Rygiel scored the Lancers’ lone run on a single by White in the sixth. But Kilfoyl struck out three of her final six batters.
“We just had to keep the pressure on them,” English said, “take it a little bit at a time.”
Times staff writer John C. Cotey and correspondents Darek Sharp, Don Jensen and Jeff Odom contributed to this report.