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CLERMONT — The love bug-splattered windshields in the National Training Center parking lot Friday may have been easier on Chamberlain coach Bobby Diez’s 64-year-old eyes than what he witnessed on the sprawling complex’s softball field.
But from this litany of miscues surfaced a masterpiece. The booted balls and bases on balls that Diez couldn’t watch were followed by two long balls — courtesy of senior Madi Gonzalez — off which he couldn’t take his eyes.
Gonzalez’s consecutive home runs, including the first grand slam of her life, helped the Chiefs (26-5) rally from an abysmal start to a 13-8 romp of Cooper City (17-9) in a wild Class 7A semifinal.
“I’m 64 and I can’t do many of those,” said Diez, who seeks his second state title Saturday night at 7. “Probably the ugliest game I’ve ever won in my life. All I can say is the team fought and didn’t quit playing.”
Gonzalez, a centerfielder, finished with eight RBIs, including a sacrifice fly in the first. Her fifth-inning slam to left center, off a Jessica Simonpietri curve that hung over the plate, tied the score at 8-all. Her three-run shot in the sixth, to essentially the same location, made it 13-8.
“I don’t think I’ll ever have (a game) like that again,” Gonzalez said.
Before evolving into the game of Gonzalez’s life, the Chiefs’ uncharacteristic display of flubs was shaping up to be the death of their coach.
Stymied by an extremely high strike zone, Chiefs ace Rachel Dwyer — a control pitcher with a 1.27 ERA — walked three of the first four batters. By inning’s end, she had walked four, allowed two singles and watched her outfield commit an error as Cooper City built a 3-0 lead.
Diez said “the umpire took us out of our game” with his strike zone, but also acknowledged his team’s jitters.
“I don’t know about everybody else, but I was extremely nervous,” said LSU-bound leadoff hitter Bianka Bell, who nonetheless finished 3-for-3 at the plate.
The Chiefs tied the score in the bottom of the inning on a walk, error, Gonzalez’s sacrifice and Kelly Smith’s RBI single. That early momentum, however, dissipated on defense.
A two-out infield error in the bottom of the fourth set up Cowboys cleanup hitter Bethany Williams’ two-run homer, giving Cooper City a 6-3 lead and chasing Dwyer. The Cowboys took an 8-4 lead in the fifth on a pair of hits and two more errors.
That’s when the Chiefs’ one-word mantra began bouncing off their dugout walls.
“Finish,” said reliever Amber Fullwood, who scattered only three hits in 3 1/3 innings.
“That’s our quote that we use to get ourselves back in momentum,” Gonzalez added.
Moments later, Gonzalez took that mantra into her own hands, and Diez took a deep breath.
“The only thing I asked them when the game was over was for my team to come tomorrow,” Diez said. “That’s all I want. The biggest disappointment today was the fact that we played so tight.”
Where: National Training Center at Clermont
Admission: $9 per session
TV: Finals on BHSN
7A final: Chamberlain vs. Bartow, 7 Saturday
8A semifinal: Durant vs. Jacksonville Mandarin, 7 Sunday
On the Web: Follow @JoeyHomeTeam on Twitter for live updates.