TARPON SPRINGS — The little things made all the difference for Lakewood Ranch.
Taking extra bases, bunting effectively and playing smart defense served the Mustangs (22-7) well as they booked their third straight trip to the Class 7A region finals with a 3-1 victory over East Lake.
The Eagles hung tough but production from the bottom of the Lakewood Ranch lineup and savvy play at the top made the difference in the crucial fifth frame.
No. 8 hitter Denali Schappacher (two hits) led off with a bunt single that looked to be spinning foul but was fielded in play. Talli Sharp’s sacrifice bunt advanced the runner and Jackie Schoff picked up her second RBI with a single to centerfield. When the throw home trickled away from the catcher, Schoff scooted to third base then hustled to score on Maddie Biggs’ grounder to shortstop.
“Jackie’s feet are magic,” Mustangs coach Tony Cummins said. “She stretches singles into doubles and doubles into triples.”
Relief pitcher Logan Newton (four innings, two hits) got two double plays behind her but met her biggest challenge in the seventh inning. Maddie Bertisch reached on a fielder’s choice, Emily Stafford beat out a single deep in the shortstop hole and both moved up 60 feet on an infield out. The left-handed fireballer dug deep and struck out East Lake’s pinch-hitter to wrap up the victory.
“One clutch hit was going to decide this game and (Lakewood Ranch) got it,” first-year Eagles coach Kristie Delk said. “I’m proud of our team. I thought we hit well, but (the Mustangs) just found a way.”
After Schoff’s RBI double put the visitors on top in the third, East Lake (15-8) answered in the bottom of the inning. No. 9 batter Nicci Palumbo laced a one-out double to the left-centerfield fence and scored on Amy Smith’s two-bagger down the leftfield line.
“I had the feeling in fall ball that we could have a solid team,” Delk said. “The kids bought into the system and really put it together at the end of the year. That was one of the reasons I wanted to coach here: the tradition of winning East Lake has built.”
5A: Lakewood ousted
After advancing to the playoffs and winning its first playoff game, Lakewood’s historic season came to an end in a 3-1 loss to host Bradenton Bayshore.
It was the third time in four meetings Lakewood (15-12) lost to the Bruins this season.
In the first inning, the Spartans scored as Sarah Snell drew a walk, stole second, advanced to third on an overthrow and came home on an error. Bayshore countered by scoring two runs off three errors in the first inning and adding a run in the third.
Lakewood had five hits but base-running miscues proved costly.
“We had a few errors in the field and on the basepaths, which was uncharacteristic of us during the playoffs,” Spartans coach Edie Shankle said. “But the big thing is we made history and it’s something we can build on.”