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NEW PORT RICHEY — In the four-year history of Sunlake softball, the program hasn’t really had any defining moments.
The Seahawks may have found their first Tuesday at River Ridge.
Facing a Royal Knights team ranked No. 29 in the nation by ESPN Rise, the Seahawks showed no signs of intimidation. They battled River Ridge ace Lakyn Shull toe-to-toe through six innings and broke through in the seventh on Stephanie Frances’ two-out, two-RBI single to win 2-0.
In three previous trips to the plate against Shull, Frances faltered, striking out all three times. With runners in scoring position in the seventh, though, Frances laced a sharp liner to rightfield that barely eluded River Ridge’s Nicole Bylski for the winning hit.
“I was hoping it would drop,” Frances said. “It kind of floated there for a second, and I thought she might catch it. I hadn’t been taking my best swings. … I was just trying to hit it hard somewhere.”
River Ridge (11-2) had a chance to tie or win in the bottom of the seventh after Morgan Tolle and Amber Jones drew walks, but Sunlake starting pitcher Tyler Riendeau struck out Shull on a 2-2 pitch to end the game and close out a breakthrough performance from the senior right-hander, who allowed five hits and walked six but didn’t give up a run.
“So impressed with her,” Sunlake coach Jami Finan said. “She pitched her best game tonight.”
River Ridge had runners in scoring position in each of the first four innings but couldn’t push a run across. The Royal Knights’ best chance to score came in the second inning when Tolle’s infield single loaded the bases with two outs, but a pop out ended the threat.
“The people were there, we just didn’t get the hits when we needed them,” River Ridge coach Ernie Beck said.
River Ridge failed to capitalize on another fine pitching performance from Shull, who struck out 11 but gave up nine hits. Shull got out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the second inning and escaped again in the third and fifth innings when the Seahawks (12-1) advanced a runner to third.
Shull ran out of luck in the seventh when she gave up back-to-back singles to start the inning before Frances came through in the clutch.
“We’ve been in tight games like this where we’ve had to come back,” said Frances, a sophomore. “That’s one thing our team’s been really good at this season is just sticking together and not giving up until the last inning.”