TAMPA — As the only teams in Class 2A, District 7, Academy at the Lakes and Cambridge Christian already know they’re playoff bound and will meet for a district title in two weeks.
That security didn’t make Thursday afternoon’s first meeting any less intense.
Sophomore Alea White struck out 14 in the Lancers’ 3-1 victory at Live Oak Park.
“I knew this game was big,” said White, who has 199 strikeouts in 88 innings. “Just the intensity and the way my teammates were encouraging me, I was focused.”
She endured one shaky inning Thursday. Entering the bottom of the sixth down 2-0 and with only one hit to that point, the Wildcats got a leadoff double from Skyler Boyton and RBI single from Maia Wark on back-to-back pitches. Then USF commit Lauren Evans (.694 average) hit a smash that got past the shortstop, and the tying run was on second with no outs.
White said she was a little “rattled” but got some defensive help. On White’s only wild pitch of the day, Wark raced toward third, but catcher Megan Rygiel threw her out. Then Kacie Hickinbotham caught a popup, and White ended the inning with a strikeout.
“She pulls it together pretty well in those situations,” Lancers coach Kevin Hickinbotham said.
Cambridge (11-4) worked 10 walks but couldn’t cash in early. With no score in the third, two walks and an error had the bases loaded with no outs. But Wildcats seventh-grader Alexis Kilfoyl got out of it despite going to 3-and-1 counts twice.
Kilfoyl got White, a .744 hitter, to hit a grounder to first that Catherine Smith came home with. Then Vivica Smith, a .600 hitter, hit a ball to short on which Evans made the throw home. Finally, Kilfoyl fielded a grounder and threw to first for the out.
But with five walks — and no hits — Cambridge got single runs in the fourth and sixth. The Lancers were held to one hit until the seventh, when they got three, including Veronica Hubbard’s RBI single.
AATL rightfielder Sierra Barr-Benjamin made a backhanded catch of Rygiel’s well-struck ball to keep the margin within range.
Jessica Hubbard and Katie Eldridge walked three times for the Lancers. Nicole Jordan singled and scored a run.
Boyton paced the Wildcats (11-3) with two of their three hits. AATL coach Jerry English remains two wins shy of 500 for his career.
The game only determined who would be the home team on the scoreboard when the sides meet April 17 in West Tampa for the district title. It didn’t even decide who would wear the light-colored jersey of the top seed.
“We only have the blue ones,” Hickinbotham said. “Maybe we should get some white ones after winning this game.”