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CLEARWATER — Plant and River Ridge waded through eight innings, a combined 15 runners left on base and 16 strikeouts before the Panthers emerged with a 1-0 victory over River Ridge to claim the Lady Canes softball tournament championship Saturday.
The Royal Knights came in boasting a 12-0 record behind sophomore ace Makenzie Goluba, who had a 0.36 ERA, 49 strikeouts and a 7-0 record.
But even in the face of the Knights’ swagger, the Panthers did not blink.
Plant senior Nikki Misner pitched a gem of her own, surrendering three hits while striking out 10 and walking just one in going the distance.
“She (Misner) has been a rock for us,” Panthers coach Melissa Sigmon said. “She’s been a monster all weekend hitting her spots.”
Misner seemed to get stronger after striking out seven of her first 10 batters.
“The whole team was really loose in warmups,” Misner said of the final. “After that last win (a semifinal win to oust tournament defending champ and host PHU) it really pushed us into this game; it set this game up.”
The breakthrough for the Panthers came in the top of the eighth. Plant’s McKenzee Herron doubled to lead off. Then Knights sophomore third baseman Melissa Moore, who had been flawless all night with seven putouts, went to her left for a chopper, but it got past her and Herron came home.
The Knights were unable to answer in the bottom of the eighth after a lead-off double to the left-center wall. Misner punched out No. 9-hitter Kylie Randolph to end the game.
Goluba ended up surrendering five hits and walked four with six strikeouts.
To get to the final, the Panthers beat PHU in walkoff fashion in the semifinals when sophomore Daniel Scott knocked in the winning run.
In the third-place game, PHU rallied in the sixth inning to beat Durant 9-7.
In other action, East Lake topped Dunedin for fifth place, and Northeast beat Jefferson for seventh place.