PLANT CITY — Twice in the past two games, logic has all but administered the last rites to Durant’s softball team. Thing is, the alleged burials have been supplanted by a birth of sorts.
From the womb of amazement, the Cardiac Cougars have been spawned.
For the second time in six nights, the Cougars (20-4) rallied wildly from a gaping deficit, only this time their season was at stake. Junior ace Paige Davis’ walkoff three-run home run Tuesday lifted the host to a 9-7 win against East Lake in the Class 8A region quarterfinals.
“That’s the way we planned it,” quipped coach Matt Carter, whose team rallied from an 11-0 deficit Thursday for a 15-13 win against Alonso in the District 8 final.
“How many times can you see a team this far into the tournament get down that far … and stay together enough to come out and conquer? I mean, it doesn’t happen.”
Except it has happened twice in a week.
On a gusty evening in rural east Hillsborough, East Lake jumped out to a 5-0 first-inning lead. Consecutive Durant errors were followed by Nicole Szelest’s two-run base hit, which set up Emma Hvozdovich’s three-run homer to left.
Peyton Collins’ two-out RBI double in the third gave the Eagles a 6-0 lead.
“I was thinking, if we came back from an 11-0 (deficit) and we don’t come back from this five-run (deficit) then it’s not ours to win,” Davis said. “But I knew that we could pick ourselves up and score more runs.”
The Cougars, held scoreless through the first three innings despite steady contact off sophomore left-hander Gabby Orito, broke through in the fourth on Kelli Tidwell’s two-run homer — her second in three games.
They tied the score in the sixth when Davis hit her first homer of the regular season, a three-run shot to left that chased Orito. East Lake retook the lead in the top of the seventh on sophomore Ashley Bonalewicz’s two-out blast.
Then the Davis drama hit Act Two. With two out and runners on first and second, Davis popped up a 3-1 pitch from lefty Zoe Tacoma high above the first-base line, only to have it misplayed.
She sent the very next pitch over the fence in dead center.
“I don’t even know how to explain it,” said Davis, who finished 2-for-4 with six RBIs.
“They’ve got a lot of confidence right now,” Carter said. “We’ll run this pony as long as it can run.”
4A: Holy Names relies on defense
TAMPA — Academy of the Holy Names was in a pitcher’s duel for the first three innings of its Class 4A 4-0 region quarterfinal victory against Mulberry. The Panthers let a couple runners get aboard in the third inning and senior first baseman Jackie Moreda crushed a pitch over the centerfield wall to give the Jaguars the lead with one stroke of the bat. They held on thanks to some stellar defensive plays and rock-solid pitching.
“We focus all year on defense; without defense, you can’t win,” said sophomore pitcher Kayla Maxwell.
“She (Maxwell) really hit her spots tonight,” coach Don Barron said. “I always tell them, get one run and we will hang on from there.”
Defense came through in spades for Holy Names. Maxwell pitched seven innings, struck out eight, walked one, gave up five hits and no runs. Some great plays on defense also contributed to the win. Junior centerfielder Ashton Hill, playing in her 100th game, made a diving catch in the third inning that held a runner at second base. She also made the last out in the sixth inning on another nice catch.
Maybe the best defensive play came in the fourth inning when Maxwell struck out the batter and senior catcher Christina Lodato threw to second base and caught the runner to end the inning. In the sixth inning, Mulberry had bases loaded with one out. Again the Jaguars escaped on a fielder’s choice and Hill’s second great catch.
Holy Names added a fourth run off consecutive wild pitches.
8A, Palm Harbor U. 14, Alonso 8: After getting behind 9-0 after two innings, a furious rally by Alonso made it a one-run game, thanks in part to a pitching change and Jessica Warren’s two-run homer in the third inning and three-run homer in the fifth. Ahead 9-8, the Hurricanes scored five runs on four hits in the sixth to given them some breathing room.
6A, Osceola 4, Leto 3: Before another standing-room only throng at Leto, the Falcons couldn’t make their three first-inning runs stand up, ending their quest for the program’s first playoff victory. Senior Celeste Marrero had two hits for Leto (15-8).
6A, Lakewood Ranch 7, Jefferson 0: At Bradenton, the Dragons’ season ended with their first shutout defeat in nearly a month.
3A, McKeel Academy 11, Seffner Christian 1: At Lakeland, the hosts collected 16 hits in a six-inning romp. Heather Novis went 2-for-4 with a triple, homer and three RBIs for McKeel.
2A, Southwest Florida Christian 8, Cambridge Christian 0: At Fort Myers, junior Meghan Sullivan finished one hit batter from a perfect game, striking out 11 Lancers.
HomeTeam Hot Shots
A look at some of the top performers from Tuesday.
Paige Davis, Durant: A .247 hitter entering Tuesday’s game, Davis hit two home runs, including a walk-off three-run shot, and collected six RBIs against East Lake. In the circle, she retired 12 consecutive batters after a disastrous start.
Jackie Moreda, Holy Names: The senior’s three-run home run in the fourth broke things open in the Jaguars’ 4-0 triumph against Mulberry.
“I told the girls they have nothing to hold their heads down for at all. Nothing but success has come for us this entire season and they should be proud of what they accomplished. Their names are forever going to be on a plaque at Leto for something they accomplished.”
Leto coach Kelly Hacker, whose team’s improbable season, which included the program’s first district title, ended with Tuesday’s 4-3 loss to Osceola
Times correspondent Andy Warrener contributed to this report.