TAMPA — The darkened dugout may as well have been destiny’s waiting room. Six outs from their first district title Thursday night, the Leto Falcons had to sit through a 15-minute delay, courtesy of a blown transformer.
When illumination returned, the fifth-seeded Falcons (15-7) put the finishing touches on their surreal regular season, thwarting a last-gasp rally by No. 3 seed Jefferson for a 3-1 victory and the Class 6A-11 crown.
“I can’t even explain it,” said sophomore Becca Harkins, whose first varsity home run — a two-run shot in the sixth — provided the winning RBIs. “We all pulled together as a family and we did it.”
In the process, they might have provided the feel-good story of the year in county softball. Less than a week before the start of the season, Leto’s outlook appeared as dim as its ballpark did when the transformer gave out.
The Falcons already had lost two coaches since the beginning of the school year when flag football coach Kelly Hacker agreed to trade spring sports. Her arrival, coupled with the transfer of right-handed ace Jaclyn Amato from Steinbrenner, seemed to galvanize the squad.
“I can tell you that never did I imagine we would be where we are right now,” Hacker said.
On Thursday, Amato, who shut out top-seeded Strawberry Crest on Wednesday, scattered only five hits while striking out eight despite being called for at least a half-dozen illegal pitches. Amato said umpires ruled she was double-planting her foot, or “crow-hopping.”
“A kid like (Amato) can make them feel more comfortable and confident about themselves,” Dragons assistant Ed Croney said. “We outhit them, we had no defensive lapses, they just got a great hit (by Harkins) and (Amato) pitched a good game. Hat’s off to them.”
Amato gave her team a 1-0 lead in the fourth on a single that scored Alexis Gutcher. Jefferson’s lone run came on a two-base throwing error by Amato in the bottom of the seventh.
Jefferson was missing coach Eve Soto-Suarez, hospitalized earlier in the day after suffering chest pains and high blood pressure during school. Croney said the team was hopeful she can return in time for next week’s region quarterfinals.
4A-9: At Berkeley Prep, senior Christina Lodato’s grand slam sparked a six-run third inning to help top-seeded Academy of the Holy Names pull away for a 7-2 victory against the No. 2-seeded host.
The victory gave the Jaguars (15-6) their second consecutive district title. Lodato’s blast was one of eight hits the Jaguars collected off Buccaneers ace Jenny Weissman. Sophomore Kayla Maxwell went the distance for the Jaguars.
3A-8: Bishop McLaughlin earned its third consecutive district championship with a 4-3 win over Seffner Christian. The Hurricanes (13-14) got up early with two first-inning RBIs by senior Andrea Niggebrugge and tacked on two more in the third by junior Marissa McGillis, who batted in only five runs all season entering the game.
Seffner Christian (15-8) made it interesting by scoring two in the sixth on a pair of base hits and adding one more in the seventh. The Crusaders loaded the bases in the final frame, but Bishop junior Megan Malone got out of the jam to preserve the win. The right-hander had one walk and struck out five in a complete game.
2A-9: Canterbury won its sixth district title, beating Cambridge 13-0 in the Class 2A-9 final that was called after five innings.
Staff writers Matt Baker and Bob Putnam contributed to this report.