LUTZ — Steinbrenner will head into tonight’s Class 7A, District 9 final to play a team it hasn’t beat all season.
Then again, that didn’t stop the Warriors on Wednesday night.
Behind a super outing by sophomore pitcher Kellee Ramsey — on the mound and in the batter’s box — the Warriors turned the tables on a Freedom team that had beaten them twice, holding on for a 2-0 victory and earning their second region playoff berth in three seasons.
The victory sets up a district finale with top-seeded Chamberlain (21-7), which beat Wiregrass Ranch 12-2 in a five-inning contest in the other semifinal.
Leadoff hitter and LSU-bound Bianka Bell was 4-for-4 with a double, triple, two stolen bases, three RBIs and four runs scored, including the game-clincher on an Ellen Scott drive over the rightfielder’s head. After scoring just six runs in their previous three games, the Chiefs were able to get their bats going.
Freedom, the No. 2 seed, did not. The Patriots (11-7) had beaten the Warriors 4-3 and 3-2 this season, but didn’t get a hit until two were out in the sixth inning.
“I did know I had it going so I was a little upset because I wanted it for a district game,” said Ramsey. “All in all, we came out with a win and that’s all that matters.”
Ramsey also did damage at the plate. With two out in the fourth inning, she drove a pitch into the right-center gap, scoring Taylor Morrow, who had singled.
The following inning, the Warriors (17-6) scored again after Savannah Scott led off with a double, was bunted over to third by Erin Knoeppel and scored on Erica Serafini’s infield single.
Leading 2-0, Ramsey left the bases loaded in sixth and escaped in the seventh when Freedom put runners on second and third with one out. But a squeeze bunt try was popped up to Morrow at third, who caught it right next to the baserunner and threw to Serafini for an easy double play.
6A-11: Jefferson, Leto stun top seeds
At Leto, an evening of semifinals evolved into surreality on Sligh Avenue, with the district’s top two seeds being sent home.
Third-seeded Jefferson (13-8), which fell twice to No. 2 Sickles in the regular season, got a huge night from sophomore Nikki Lopez in a 5-3 triumph. Lopez went 3-for-4 and pitched the final two innings, working out of jams in both for the save.
Facing a bases-loaded, one-out situation in the sixth, Lopez forced two fly balls to end the Gryphons’ threat, then forced a double play in the seventh with two runners on to end the game.
Nicole Comstock added a two-run double for Jefferson, which built a 4-0 lead. Christina Linton’s three-run home run in the fifth accounted for the Gryphons’ offense.
In the nightcap, fifth-seeded Leto got a four-hitter from junior ace Jaclyn Amato in a 1-0 stunner against top-seeded Strawberry Crest.
The Chargers (18-6) entered with a .453 team batting average and 14 home runs.
The Falcons, assured of their first playoff berth in 10 years, meet Jefferson in tonight’s final.
7A-8: Raiders cruise, Sharks topple Indians
At Hillsborough, Plant City pitchers Morgan Gmytruk and Noelle Dietrich combined on a two-hitter in a five-inning, 10-0 romp of the host school. The top-seeded Raiders meet Riverview in Friday’s 7 p.m. district final.
The third-seeded Sharks clinched their first postseason berth in three seasons with a 10-5 triumph against No. 2 East Bay.
Staff writer Joey Knight contributed to this report.