LAND O’LAKES — There were a couple of moments Wednesday when it looked like a monumental upset was possible.
An early call took a run off the board for state-ranked River Ridge. Later with the margin 3-0 Land O’Lakes loaded the bases with no outs.
But it takes more than a couple of flashes to head off this River Ridge team. The Royal Knights (25-1) did enough to advance 4-0 to the Class 6A, District 10 final at Sunlake, where they will face Mitchell, an 11-1 winner against Tarpon Springs.
Gators freshman Shannon Saile hadn’t faced the slugging Knights and was not intimidated. It was scoreless through two and in the third, with two runners on via throwing errors, Saile retired Kenzi Maguire (.494, 35 RBIs) and Morgan Tolle (.605, seven homers, 43 RBIs).
But then Makenzie Goluba stroked a two-run double and Jada Power tacked on an RBI single and it was 3-0. The Gators (9-12) did not back down. They loaded the bases in the fourth on three straight pitches — singles by freshmen Tayler Holt and Gaby Santiago, and an error fielding Saile’s bunt.
Again Goluba came through. She struck out a pair then enjoyed the work of rightfielder Brittany Forrise, who turned a would-be run-scoring single into an out, gunning down the runner at first.
“That’s a play she’s done a lot; it’s so nice to have her over there,” said Goluba, who struck out five including the side in the sixth. “Those are the situations you love to be in.”
Knights coach Ernie Beck wasn’t surprised it was close; the teams were scoreless through five innings in their first meeting. This time the first two batters reached then Tolle hit a shot to center and the Knights looked certain to be out to a quick lead.
But Madisyn Palmer was called for interference, wiping out the run.
“No complaint there, Madi knows better than that,” Beck said. “We hadn’t seen (Saile) this year and she kept us off balance tonight, but we did enough.”
Mitchell (19-6) was in a bit of a spot in the early game, down 1-0 heading into the bottom of the fifth.
“I was a little concerned,” said Mustangs pitcher Jordan Fowler. The play that eased her mind and got Mitchell going was a tying double by Paige Davis. Samantha Renzetti, who went 4-for-4, followed with a single up the middle and later an error put Mitchell up 3-1.
Davis restarted the hit parade in the sixth as Mitchell strung together eight runs to end the game early. Her two-run single made it 5-1 and Erin Brown would drive in two to end matters.
5A-8: Playoff-bound Gulf shakes off its troubles
ZEPHYRHILLS — After two consecutive one-run district semifinal losses and a rocky spring filled with injuries and forfeits, maybe Gulf was due for a night like Wednesday — an 8-0 shellacking of host Zephyrhills in the Class 5A, District 8 semifinals.
The win sends the Buccaneers into Friday’s district title game against Pasco and guarantees the program’s first playoff appearance since 2005.
“This,” Bucs coach Rick Hohenthaner said, “is the other side of the coin that we never felt.”
The coin finally flipped for Gulf (13-13), one of the district’s top two teams before forfeiting seven games for using an academically ineligible player. A day after escaping with a one-run win over Fivay, the Bucs cruised behind a six-run fourth inning against the top-seeded Bulldogs (18-6).
Gulf scored when Alyssa Mulroy singled in a run and Marissa Bowers was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded. Freshman Britney Pressler followed by blasting a grand slam to centerfield for the first home run of her high school career.
“I just finished it off,” Pressler said.
And Bucs ace Madison Morlan finished the Bulldogs off from there to end the career of coach Craig Milburn, who’s retiring after 32 years of coaching at Zephyrhills.
The junior struck out five batters and allowed five hits in a complete game shutout that made up for two previous disappointing finishes.
“Sweet revenge,” Morlan said. “We were so happy that we could cry.”
She and her coach nearly did moments later. As the victorious Bucs walked off the field from the biggest win in almost a decade, Hohenthaner bear-hugged the workhorse who carried his program through two turbulent seasons and another up-and-down spring.
“You don’t know how happy it made me,” Hohenthaner said.
The Bucs can make their coach even happier Friday with a win over Pasco (17-10) for the district title.
The Pirates advanced by beating Hudson 13-0 in five innings in Wednesday’s early game. Pasco scored nine runs before it recorded its second out. Kelli Parker allowed only three hits and added two doubles.
Staff writer Matt Baker contributed to this report.