GIBSONTON — If East Bay needed any motivation, the Indians didn’t have to look far.
Perched behind the plate were a number of Indians from the 2010 state championship team, and their presence didn’t go unnoticed.
“It’s an exciting thing knowing they were here for us,” catcher Madison Culver said. “They’ve (won state) before and it makes us think we can, too.”
The Indians took the first step toward that goal Thursday night, using a three-run third to knock off No. 1 seed Plant City 3-2 in the 7A-8 district final.
“We only scored one run off them all year,” East Bay coach Glenn Rodriguez said. “Three in the first was a big lift.”
Plant City, 10-0 during the district slate, was unable to overcome the early-inning deficit.
“I thought if we could get the lead, we could put the pressure on them,” Rodriguez said. “I figured they may press a little bit.”
Culver drove in a pair with a ringing double to right-centerfield, then scored on an Aliceson Holliday bunt to put the Indians (17-11) up 3-0 in the first. The Raiders (15-8) scored a run in the fourth on a throwing error, and Becca Sorensen’s bloop RBI single to short left in the sixth made it 3-2.
But with the bases loaded and two outs later that inning, Indians first baseman Jessica Powser drifted back on a shallow pop fly. The ball caromed out of her mitt but rightfielder Kiara Burrows came in to catch the ricochet and end the inning.
“I never expected that in a million years,” Burrows said. “But we’re always taught to back up everything.”
7A-9: Staunch D from Chamberlain
TAMPA — Rachel Dwyer tossed a one-hitter, in somewhat sneaky fashion, as Chamberlain beat Freedom 4-2 for the 7A-9 district title.
“Really, she did? Yeah I guess she did,” was Lindsey Hagberg’s reaction. She merely spent the entire game catching Dwyer’s pitches.
Dwyer had to be informed by a friend of her feat. But it makes sense. She wasn’t blowing the ball by Freedom and the changeup was her best pitch. Freedom hit the ball plenty, often plenty hard. But Chamberlain’s defense was lights out.
And when the Patriots scored two runs in the top of the sixth the ball never left the infield. By then Chamberlain was ahead 4-0 and looking every bit primed for a run at a repeat state championship.
“Our motto is ‘be good in April’, ” coach Bobby Diez said. “You string five wins together and that’s all it takes. We’re pitching good and playing some really good defense right now.”
Chamberlain (19-7) was the top seed but both teams went 7-1 through district play and split their meetings. Both were decided by a run and Diez, sensing a similar result, called for a double steal in the first inning to set up Jenna Brownell’s sac fly.
Brownell had quite the game, adding an RBI single in the sixth and coming up with some terrific turns at shortstop.
“You need that kind of defense to beat the good teams that we’re playing now,” said Dwyer.
Elizabeth Diaz singled in Amber Fulwood, who worked an eight-pitch walk leading off the fifth and was moved over by Izzy Ordorica’s grounder. Chamberlain got some needed insurance in the sixth. Hagberg’s two-out double started a string of four straight hits, Brownell and Ordorica supplying the RBI.
Freedom (18-3) got two runs after a strange start to the sixth. No. 9 hitter Rachel Carlson was hit by a pitch leading off, then on Maddy Hall’s grounder first baseman Elizabeth Diaz tried to get the runner at second. Brownell bobbled the ball after Carlson was called out, and after three changes the umpires ruled her safe.
“I bobbled it,” said Brownell.
With the heart of the order up Freedom turned to small ball, which worked to score two runs but also gave Chamberlain two outs on sac bunts. The lone Chiefs error, on Caitlin Harper’s grounder to second, made it 4-1 and Katlin Hall’s bunt for the second out scored a run.
Freedom’s Caroline Whiteside made the play of the game ending the sixth, leaping to snag a line drive and turning the double play by stepping on second.
Dwyer picked up three late strikeouts to finish with six. Katlin Hall took the loss for the Patriots, going 5 1/3 innings and allowing five hits.
“People are doubting that we can (repeat) because we lost so many players from last season,” said Brownell. “But I think we can do it.”
6A-11: More success for Strawberry Crest
TAMPA — Sammy Tyler kept the pressure on Sickles batters, Megan Reed delivered in a pressure-packed at-bat, and Strawberry Crest’s offense kept the pressure on the Gryphons defense Thursday night as the No. 1-seeded Chargers won 3-0 for the Class 6A, District 11 championship.
Tyler, a junior, tossed a three-hitter and struck out eight to give Strawberry Crest coach Mindy Miltner her second district title in four years. Of Tyler’s 108 pitches, 80 were strikes, including first-pitch strikes to 22 of 28 hitters.
Reed, also a junior, plated the only run Tyler needed in the fourth with a two-out single to center to score Mia Fung from second.
“My goal was to just get a hard hit and try to score that run,” Reed said. “We needed to break through that 0-0 ball game.”
Strawberry Crest (23-2) put the ball in play, striking out only twice against loser Devon Morrison. That pressure finally got to Sickles (17-10) in the sixth, when three errors led to two unearned runs. The No. 3 Gryphons rallied with two out in the seventh with a hit batter and a base hit. But Reed ended the game with a juggling catch of Janae Perera’s popup that hit the shortstop’s glove twice.
“I had a mini-heart attack in between that ball hitting my glove the first time and hitting it the second time,” Reed said. “I thought I was the luckiest person ever (to catch it).”
Miltner said she was proud of her team’s approach. “All day at school, (the girls) gave up their cell phones so they could focus,” she said.
“Sammy pitched well and offensively, we swung the bats and bunted the ball when we needed to.”
5A-11: St. John gives Longhorns first title
RUSKIN — Lennard’s dream of its first district softball title had nearly faded, the Longhorns trailing Blake 2-1 in the bottom of the seventh inning with two out.
The first two batters singled and got into scoring position with nobody out in the seventh for Lennard, but Blake pitcher Amanda Weather struck out the next two.
Lennard was down to its final out, but that’s when Ashley St. John came through.
Facing a 0-1 pitch, St. John smashed a hard, one-hop groundball up the middle that bounced off the glove of the Blake shortstop and into centerfield, scoring both runners to give Lennard a 3-2 victory.
“I just tried to run my hardest thinking I would have to beat out the throw,” St. John said. “I saw her fumble the ball, and then I knew I had it.”
Lennard’s offense was held in check by Weather after opening with a run in the first inning. Leadoff batter Kiani Mullins reached on an error and scored on another error to give Lennard (12-9) an early 1-0 lead.
Blake (11-10) answered in the fifth. With runners at second and third and two out, Lauren Desmond smacked a grounder up the middle and reached safely when the throw from shortstop was high. That scored one run and the Yellow Jackets got the go-ahead run on the same play when Weather, rounding third, saw the Lennard defense was not paying attention and scooted home.
Weather was in cruise control late, allowing just one baserunner in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings combined, but consecutive singles from Kellie Bostic and Breyhan Waters to open the seventh gave the Longhorns new life.
“The bottom of our order finally came up and started getting on base,” Lennard coach Jamie McCulley said. “Right when I knew St. John was up, I was thinking, ‘All right, she’s one of my better hitters. She can take this.’ So, I was confident.”
Fortunately for Lennard, so too was St. John.
“I knew it was on me and it was either going to be a win or an out,” St. John said. “I just had to hit the ball.”
3A-8: CDS notches first title
At Seffner, a no-frills, five-hit pitching effort by Carrollwood Day junior Amanda Rose lifted the top-seeded Patriots (11-5) to a 2-1 victory against Seffner Christian, giving CDS the program’s first district title.
Using her fastball on 78 of her 90 pitches, Rose struck out 10 and walked two, and assisted her own cause offensively with a two-out double in the first that scored Samantha Fest.
Lizzy Edgerton scored on Dena Bader’s fly ball and an infield throwing error in the bottom of the second.
“The best word to describe her is “pitcher,’ ” Pats coach Chuck Fest said of Rose. “She’s learned the importance of location. She knows how to pitch efficiently without needing eight pitches to trick people.”
2A-9: Crusaders on cruise control
ST. PETERSBURG — Coach Jody Moore called this the strongest team she’s ever had.
An all-around excellent performance Thursday evening validated that assessment, as Canterbury defeated Cambridge 10-0 in the district final.
In pitching, hitting, defense and base running, the Crusaders were strong, putting forth an effort that gave Canterbury (16-11) its eighth consecutive district championship.
Kama Woodall dominated from the mound, striking out 10 Lancers and allowing just one hit in five innings. That lone single didn’t come until the fifth inning, and Woodall responded by striking out the next three batters.
Three inside-the-park home runs by Lindsey Graves accounted for six Crusader runs.
4A-9: AHN finds late burst then hangs on
At Academy of the Holy Names, the No. 2-seeded Jaguars (20-3) scored five runs in the top of the eighth and held off a Tampa Catholic rally in the bottom of the inning for a 12-9 triumph.
The victory gave AHN (19-3) its third consecutive district title. Junior Janelle Enriquez provided the key hit in the eighth with a two-run double preceded by singles from Caroline Sutton and Christina Gerecke.
TC collected 13 hits, three fewer than the Jags.
8A-7: The final between Durant and Wharton was postponed because of inclement weather. The game will resume today at 2 p.m. The Cougars were up 4-0 in the bottom of the third.
Correspondents Darek Sharp, Bryan Burns, Don Jensen and Anthony Salveggi contributed to this report.