BROOKSVILLE — For Hernando, this was a new experience. The Leopards haven’t been in the region finals since 2001, when then-coach Ernie Chatman led the program to back-to-back state semifinal berths.
Whether it was the nerves attached to the magnitude of the Class 5A region final or the condition of the field that was repaired just before game time, Hernando had no excuses after the 10-0 loss to St. Johns Creekside that ousted the Leopards from the postseason Friday.
Hernando (22-8) was put in a hole early as Amanda McCullough walked with one out. Colleen Darragh followed with a double to make it runners at second and third before FSU commit Victoria Daddis coaxed a second walk to load the bases. Leopards starter Courtney Riddle was able to get out of the situation with minimal damage, getting Ali French with an RBI groundout to second then striking out Jennifer Miller.
Creekside (26-2) stomped out Hernando’s hopes of tying the score in the bottom half of the first. Ashley Sims, who came into Friday with at least three hits in five straight games, singled to left with one out. The senior, who was 44-for-47 on steal attempts, was caught stealing on a close play at second.
“I’m not sad that we lost because we came a long way,” Sims said, working through some tears. “If someone told me before the year started that we’d be here, I would never have believed it.”
The Leopards managed only one more hit for the rest of the game as Knights ace Rachel Pence shut down the offense. She tossed six innings, striking out 11 and walking two.
On the other side, Riddle struggled. An error in the second inning contributed to two more runs, and the junior hurler worked through the complete-game effort by giving up 13 hits, walking four and striking out only two.
“That was an experienced team in the other dugout,” Hernando coach Kevin Bittinger said, “and a good number of my starters have never been in a game like this before. I couldn’t be prouder of this group of girls.”
6A: River Ridge falters on the road
LAKEWOOD RANCH — The Lakewood Ranch softball team wasn’t built for glitter.
Coach Tony Cummins said he doesn’t even know how many games his team has won or loss.
But one could argue Lakewood Ranch is built to travel.
The Mustangs (20-9-1) will be making their second straight trip to the state final four thanks to an 8-3 victory over River Ridge on Friday.
River Ridge (28-1) entered on a 17-game win streak. In the region semifinal, Lakewood Ranch beat Strawberry Crest (24-2), which had won 20 of 21 games.
Taylor Newton had a two-run single in the bottom of the first that scored Jenn Trotter and Amber Wimmer, who reached on a walk and single, respectively, to give the Mustangs a 2-1 lead.
Newton showed her flair for the dramatic leading off the bottom of the sixth with the Mustangs leading 4-2.
The third baseman told her coaches she would hit a homer and delivered, smacking her team-leading sixth round-tripper of the season.
The Mustangs broke a 2-2 deadlock in the fifth on Shea Fisher’s two-run single that scored Trotter and McKaleigh Goodale, who reached on singles.
Newton’s homer seemed to ignite the Lakewood Ranch bats. The Mustangs followed with four singles that scored three more runs.
“Hitting breeds hitting,” Cummins said. “Figgy (Newton) came up and hit a homer and that was as crucial a hit as any all day for us. It got us going. We decided to grip and rip a little bit.”
Amanda Rak went the distance for the Mustangs. The sophomore gave up runs in the first, second and seventh innings. She finished with eight strikeouts, allowed eight hits and walked three.
The Mustangs got nine hits off River Ridge right-hander Makenzie Goluba, who opened scoring for the Knights Friday with an RBI single in the first inning. Goluba came into the game with a 0.32 ERA and 145 strikeouts in 151 innings. The sophomore brought a 23-1 record.
Information from the Herald was used in this report.