CLERMONT — Durant’s mystical playoff run of happy bounces and goose-bump wins wrapped up in the wee hours this morning.
The Cougars, undeterred by rain delays before and during the game, won their first state softball title with an 8-2 victory over Miami Palmetto in the Class 8A championship.
Once the final out was recorded, Durant players rushed to the mound in celebration. Then they had a moment of silence. In that moment was merely everything important, every truth about caring and loss and letting go.
It was then that the Cougars understood, maybe for the first time: It’s over. Durant didn’t just win its first state title. The Cougars also released themselves from the emotionally exhausting path of winning a title for team mother Antionette Cuellar, “Momma C,” who died May 4 of breast cancer.
At the start, all the bounces went wrong. Miami Palmetto’s Gabby Spallone smacked a two-run homer over the rightfield fence in the top of the first inning.
But that blast was not been enough to drain the magic out of the Cougars’ season.
For the fourth time in the past seven games, Durant staged a comeback. This one was not as dramatic as the previous three, all of which ended with walkoff home runs.
Still, it was the most memorable.
After the Cougars’ first four batters went down swinging, Alyssa Colding ended the drought in the second inning, beating out a chopper to first. Paige Davis followed with a walk. Two batters later, Brooke Freeman singled to bring in Melissa Mertely, who was pinch running for Colding, to cut the deficit to 2-1.
"We were still pretty confident even when we fell behind," said Freeman, who finished 3-for-4 with two RBIs and two runs scored. "Whenever we're behind it's a challenge to us to pick up our game and play better.
"We've been doing it all season."
In the fourth inning, Durant broke open the game by sending nine batters up, getting four hits and scoring three runs to go ahead 4-2.
Jordan LaFave singled in Freeman for the tying run. Nikki Giovenco reached on an error that brought home Payton Lewis for the go-ahead run.
The Cougars added three more insurance runs in the fifth inning with the big hit coming on a two-run homer by Freeman to make it 7-2.