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BROOKSVILLE — Through 12 games, Hernando’s offense had been inconsistent. If the top half hit well, the bottom half didn’t. If the bottom half was hot, the first four hitters were cold.
Friday night at rival Nature Coast, the Leopards’ bats clicked. Hernando racked up 15 hits to blow past the Sharks 10-1.
“We hit top to bottom,” Leopards coach Kevin Bittinger said.Seven Hernando players recorded hits, and five batted in runs for the Leopards (8-5). The offensive explosion started early for Hernando, which had its second-best run production of the season.
Jessica Pinto’s sacrifice bunt and an error by NCT (5-7) gave the Leopards a 2-0 lead in the second. Pitcher Courtney Riddle smacked an RBI double off the rightfield wall in the third off Mariah Crawford, and Tana McDaniel’s blooper to leftfield scored two more runs in the fourth.
“We were more selective offensively,” Bittinger said. “Tonight I think we did a great job seeing pitches we wanted to see.”
That was more than enough run support for Riddle, who improved to 6-4. The sophomore allowed only one hit through the first five innings.
Riddle — one of the county’s leaders with a 0.92 ERA — gave up back-to-back walks in the fourth inning but escaped unscathed. She got Dana Mackiewicz to fly out to left, and second baseman Lauren Johnson stabbed a ball from the dirt to save a run and secure the final out.
“She battled back,” Bittinger said of Riddle.
Hernando broke open the game with a three-run fifth inning thanks to a two-run single by Pinto and an RBI single by freshman catcher Megan Lane.
Nature Coast tried to rally late by loading the bases to start the sixth inning. Courtney David’s single brought home a run with one out, but Hernando shut down the Sharks after that. Crawford flied out, and Riddle struck out Summer Vassuer to end the threat and send the Leopards off to spring break with a victory.
Hernando hosts its Leopard Softball Slam tournament next weekend.