BROOKSVILLE — Nature Coast fans started clapping as the Hernando batter stepped up to the plate in the seventh inning. The Sharks had two outs, but one fan warned against celebrating too soon: “It’s very early to start this.”
The batter struck out, and NCT gave fans reason to celebrate with a 5-4 victory. The Sharks (7-0, 5-0) defeated the Leopards (7-1, 5-1) to stay undefeated and rise to the top of Class 5A, District 7.
“We got some clutch hits when we really needed them,” NCT coach Ernie Chatman said.
The Sharks streaked ahead early. Kathryn Gonzalez and Brianna Harvey were on base when Courtney David doubled, sending Gonzalez home. Hits by Brittany Rodriguez and Abbey Primavera gave Harvey and David chances to score, and the Sharks ended the first inning up 3-0.
The Sharks didn’t let up in the second. After NCT picked off one Hernando player from third base and two others at-bat, Harvey hit a triple that sent Kathryn Gonzalez home again. Chyloe Gonzalez hit a single that gave Harvey her second run of the night, and NCT had a 5-0 lead.
“They put the ball in early, and we didn’t,” Hernando coach Kevin Bittinger said. “Playing from behind all night, that’s tough.”
Chatman said it took a couple of innings for Hernando pitcher Courtney Riddle to settle in. Once she did, the landscape changed. The Sharks didn’t score again.
Erika Lewis put the Leopards on the scoreboard for the first time in the third inning. She hit a double and stole her way to home.
Summer Solovitch scored in the fourth and sixth innings, making Hernando fans wonder aloud if they would have time to catch up.
When Lewis scored again in the seventh, it seemed that might be possible, but NCT’s Alyssa Gonzalez struck out the fourth Hernando batter to earn her team’s win.
Kathryn Gonzalez and Harvey each had two runs for the Sharks. Harvey added an RBI. Courtney David had one run and one RBI. Rodriguez, Primavera and Chyloe Gonzalez each had one RBI.
Solovitch and Lewis each had two of Hernando’s runs. Kaylee Frascatore and Lewis had one RBI.
Looking ahead, Bittinger said the Leopards have to focus on their mental game.
“I’m confident in what we have, as far as our players,” Bittinger said. “I think the softball part will come naturally.”