TAMPA — Even when she was staring from the circle at a Division I recruit representing the winning run, Bloomingdale ace Lace Smith didn’t let her jitters show against Alonso.
“The whole game I was nervous,” Smith said. “Let’s be honest.”
So with a region final berth at stake, the Buffalo commit did what she had done all night and all season. Relax and throw strikes.
Smith struck out Houston-bound Kayla Maxwell on three consecutive pitches to preserve the Bulls’ 3-1 victory in Tuesday night’s Class 8A region semifinal at Alonso. The win puts Bloomingdale (24-2) in the region final for the first time since 2009 and the seventh time overall.
“This is big for us,” Smith said.
And Smith was big in helping the Bulls get there.
Six days after throwing a 19-strikeout perfect game, she dazzled again. The hard-throwing junior allowed only one hit and no walks through the first six shutout innings, and 81 of her 105 pitches were strikes.
But Maxwell was nearly as impressive for the Ravens (20-5). She allowed only two hits through the first six frames and forced Bloomingdale to strand nine runners.
“You can’t really say anything because we were hitting the ball hard,” Bulls coach Mandy Schuerman said. “You’ve got to give credit to their defense, their pitcher.”
Bloomingdale finally started the offense in the seventh, thanks to Elizabeth Jackson’s one-out double and a single by Taylor Engman. Darby Bernaldo followed with an RBI bloop single, and Smith blasted a triple off the rightfield wall to extend the Bulls’ lead to 3-0.
The Ravens answered, as they had all season in a tight rivalry that gave Alonso the district title over Bloomingdale.
Megan Wetzel led off with a single, and Smith’s only walk of the game put two runners on and no outs. A throwing error scored Wetzel and brought up Maxwell with two on and two outs.
“I was just thinking, trust myself,” Smith said. “ ‘Relax. You’ve got this.’ ”
She was right. Smith fired three straight pitches past Maxwell for the 10th strikeout of the game and the Bulls’ biggest win in five years.