BROOKSVILLE — Hernando was hosting a Class 5A region final a second straight season. And the Leopards were dominated from the start once again.
Belleview jumped ahead in the first inning Monday afternoon, and with an offensive outburst, eventually dispatched Hernando 18-4 at Tom Varn Park.
“Give Belleview credit,” Hernando coach Kevin Bittinger said. “This was the best top to bottom hitting lineup we’ve faced all season.”
The Leopards (27-3) were playing an afternoon game, a rarity for this time of year. The temperature at game time was 84 degrees, and with almost no wind, the heat felt far more intense on the field.
“(Blaming the heat) is the easy way out,” Bittinger said. “We’re better than that, and we have to own it.”
Hernando ace Courtney Riddle (27-2) labored through her seven innings of work, giving up bloop singles early. But the Rattlers (25-5) eventually began to make solid contact. The senior was charged with 18 runs, only one unearned. She was also tagged for 20 hits, hitting four batters, walking one, and striking out only one.
“They are a great hitting team, and I was making good pitches,” Riddle said. “Sometimes it doesn’t work out the way you want it to.”
Belleview, which came in hitting .426 as a team, lived up to that statistic. If you take away the eighth and ninth batters for the Rattlers, the lineup went a combined 20-for-32 with four doubles, 17 runs scored and 17 RBIs. Alex Suzuki led the team at 5-for-5 with two doubles, four runs and three RBIs.
Rattlers starter Jamie Adams (20-3) wasn’t stellar, but she outdueled Riddle thanks to her ability to erase mistakes. In the complete game, the freshman struck out five and walked four, but only was charged with three earned runs. Belleview even had four defensive errors.
For senior-laden Hernando, it was disappointing. Creekside eliminated the Leopards 10-0 last year, but confidence was high heading into Monday.
“I told the girls, I’d rather have this group in back-to-back region finals than another group and win a state title,” Bittinger said. “That’s how much they mean to me.”