CLEARWATER— After two days of softball between 16 teams from three different counties, the final of the Lady ’Canes Spring Classic was decided between rivals that are roughly 10 miles apart.
Palm Harbor University, which hosts the annual tournament, faced East Lake in the championship, a rematch of the regular-season opener the Eagles won handily.
Unlike that meeting (a 9-1 East Lake victory), this one was close.
There were diving catches to corral would-be hits and alert throws to tag runners at home.
But for all of the defensive gems, the game was decided by two costly throwing errors.
The Hurricanes committed both.
East Lake’s Aidann Jacquay, a freshman who was pinch-running for catcher Katie Bright, took advantage in the second inning. Jacquay darted for second on the first error and came home on the following throwing miscue for what turned to be the only run in a 1-0 Eagles’ victory.
“We have a team of veterans, most of whom did not become starters until they were juniors,” Eagles coach Kristie Delk said. “So we rely on our freshmen to accept the role as pinch-runners. They’ve been huge because we count on them so much for their speed.”
Both teams took different routes to reach the final.
PHU (7-4) waltzed through the first three games of the tournament, outscoring Strawberry Crest, Holy Names and Tampa Catholic by a combined 40-9.
The Hurricanes also had the chance to ease Savanna Bennett back into the rotation. The senior, who had Tommy John surgery in the offseason, started the semifinal against the Crusaders and was limited to an 85 pitch count that included warmups. She threw three scoreless innings.
East Lake (13-1), meanwhile, was battle-tested, winning three tough games against quality opponents. On Friday, the Eagles had to withstand two furious rallies to beat previously undefeated Calvary Christian 8-7.
That was followed by a 4-2 victory over powerhouse Newsome and an 11-3 win over Durant in the semifinals.
The way the offenses had produced throughout the tournament, the final was expected to be a slugfest.
It did not turn that way.
Both starters — East Lake’s Tori Brennan and Palm Harbor University’s Taylor Norwood — were effective at keeping hitters off balance.
Brennan, the reigning Tampa Bay Times Pinellas County pitcher of the year, allowed seven hits, all singles.
“It’s amazing,” Brennan said. “I’m so proud of this team. We came out to play every game of this tournament and it shows.”
This was the second tournament the Eagles have won this season. Earlier this year, East Lake won the Montverde Tournament in Orlando, beating three teams that were either in the state semifinals or final last year.
The difficult schedule was designed not only to help the Eagles prepare for the competition they will face in the postseason but also to get ready for a playoff format next year that will rely heavily on strength of schedule.
East Lake has met all challenges and enters the stretch run of the regular season on a 12-game win streak, currently the longest in the area.
“We’re in a good spot,” Delk said.
Durant 12, Tampa Catholic 6
After losing to East Lake in the semifinals, the Cougars rebounded in their final game to take third place.
Andrea Rebello was 4-for-4 and Alivia Rivera was 3-for-3 in the consolation final for Durant (7-3). Teammate Kelly Swank also had a solid weekend, going a combined 7-for-12 with a homer and double in four games.