NEW PORT RICHEY — River Ridge softball coach Ernie Beck is retiring after this season, so this week’s district tournament was his last.
And the way the Royal Knights played, one of his best, too.
Despite entering as the No. 3 seed, River Ridge rolled over all three opponents, including Dunedin 8-0 in Friday’s Class 5A-8 championship.
The Royal Knights (25-3) did it in their usual style, with a relentless, timely offense and the marksmanship of pitcher Makenzie Goluba, who allowed two hits and struck out 13.
They outscored Tarpon Springs, Sunlake and Dunedin by a combined 20-0 to give Beck his eighth district championship in 19 seasons.
“It’s your last tournament, and from here on out every game could be your last game,” Beck said. “You just wanna hope you win your last game, because that means you won the state.”
Beck, one of the deans of high school softball in Tampa Bay, was hired in 1994 and has led the Knights more than 350 victories, 16 playoff appearances, three final fours and two state runner-up finishes (in 2002, ’03).
Beck’s time, though, is up, another longtime Pasco County coach that enrolled in the Deferred Retirement Option Program, which allowed him to delay retirement and continue teaching.
“It is what it is,” Beck said. “Do I wanna give it up? No. But you go into the DROP and you gotta take care of the things you need to.”
Beck said he hasn’t made a big deal of his final season, and it hasn’t been a point of discussion.
Friday morning, Beck’s daughter (and former player of the year), Christine, and his wife, Karen, watched from the news box. Christine tried to get her brother, Michael, who is stationed in Qatar, on FaceTime so he could watch an inning of his dad’s last district title.
“This is so much a part of your life,” Beck said. “My wife calls herself the softball widow during the season. We pour our heart and soul into it. I mean, the girls do and we do. Everybody works hard. And I’m gonna miss that. There’s no doubt I’m going to miss it.”
Hopes are high the Royal Knights send Beck out a state champion. Against Dunedin (17-6), they pounded out 13 hits, with seven of nine starters getting at least one.
In the fourth inning, Morgan Tolle, Goluba and Melissa Moore hit consecutive run-scoring doubles. Tolle’s was ripped down the line to the fence, and Goluba and Moore’s shots just missed going over the fence, bouncing off it.
River Ridge’s win gives Beck at least one more home game. The Knights host Nature Coast in the region quarterfinals Thursday.