BROOKSVILLE — Ali Shenefield was perfect for six innings Saturday in the Leopard Softball Slam title game.
Hernando’s game against Sickles, however, was seven innings long, and freshman pitcher Robyn Herron made that one breakthrough inning count as the Gryphons delivered the Leopards their first defeat of the season, 2-0.
The lefty hurler battled to a 4-1 semifinal win over Ridgeview earlier Saturday, then drew the Slam final start from head coach Al Bowman. But she wasn’t supposed to go the distance.
“She was warmed up so we went with her to start and we were going to bring in (fellow freshman) Reese (Wimberly) to relieve. Robyn was doing so well, we couldn't take her out.”
That she was, battling out of several jams to finish with a two-hit shutout, walking six while striking out 11.
“My adrenaline was really going for me,” Herron admitted. “I know how good (Hernando is) and Ali is really good. I just knew I had to be better.'
Herron only had two 1-2-3 innings, but she truly buckled down when pushed to the wall. A strikeout and a nice grab of a line drive by third baseman Kamryn Jackson stranded a pair of runners for Hernando (10-1) in the second inning. With runners on second and third in the fourth, Herron fanned a pair to escape. And with a pair on in the seventh, Herron knocked down a hot grounder and threw to first to end the contest.
“My curve and riseball were good for me (Saturday). On a 10 scale, I feel I was at a 10,” Herron said with a smile.
Meanwhile, her counterpart — Shenefield — was nearly unhittable. The Rollins signee fanned Sickles’ first batter for her 700th career strikeout and ended up with 16 Ks. The bottom five batters in the Gryphons’ order struck out all 12 times they faced Shenefield.
But the top of the lineup was making contact, and they broke through in the top of the fourth for Sickles (10-1).
Lauren Lightbody plopped a leadoff single behind second base and Natalie Zweig followed with a one-out base hit that was rocketed off of Leopards third baseman Madyson Lamp’s left foot. Cleanup batter Jackson — a Duke commit — delivered big time as she launched a triple to deep leftfield that cleared the bases.
“We faced Ali last year and she shut us down, so we asked ourselves what would we do this year,” Bowman said. “The girls made some adjustments, but we knew it would be a low-scoring game. We didn't know if two runs would be enough, but our defense and pitching made sure it was.”
Bowman was pleased with the play of Zweig, Jackson and junior DP Sadie Weld this weekend, but there was one plus that could lift Sickles for the second half of the schedule:
“We have six seniors on our roster and I know they’re not going to quit. Playing four games in two days against good teams that we don’t usually see, it was good to see the freshmen step up and not quit, too. Robyn battled with a high pitch count but she’s a quick learner and showed a lot of improvement. I think this will be important for her to build her high school career.”
Warriors hold on for third place
In the third-place contest, Steinbrenner was able to make a two-run first inning last, defeating Ridgeview 2-1.
“We have a really young team (with no seniors), and to get them to come together, communicate and work together, has been something we've really been working on,” Steinbrenner head coach Brenda Leach said. “This weekend was good for that goal. We saw good competition and it was good to see us rise to the occasion.”
Junior first baseman Frankie Raeckers’ fifth RBI of the tourney was the winner, coming on a two-out single that plated Bri Lyall, who also singled. Freshman Madi Frey brought home the first run for the Warriors (8-4) on a sacrifice fly that scored junior Sierra Carter (walk).
Sophomore Britt Michael did a fine job keeping Ridgeview (8-5) in the contest, scattering four hits over the final six innings and striking out six.
The Panthers cut the gap in half in the bottom of the fifth on back-to-back two-out doubles from Brooke Michael and Alyssa Adams, but struggled to cash in on opportunities Saturday.
Starter Ashley Shroll worked five shutout innings despite yielding seven hits. Junior Mikayla Johnson retired six of the last seven batters she faced to earn the save.
“I think we came out on fire in the first two games, didn’t get enough rest and just kind of flatlined,” Panthers coach Casey Thompson said. “I’m proud of how we did this weekend. We played well against some tough competition and I think this group will be ready for the second half of the season.”
Mixed emotions for Chiefs
The cruel reality hit coach Bob Diez on his way to Brooksville on Saturday: his Chamberlain squad wouldn’t be playing for the Leopard Softball Slam title despite going unbeaten on Day 1.
The Chiefs, who moved on from the Palm Harbor University tourney this year, were one of five teams of the 17 playing that went 2-0 on Friday. But only four could play for the title and the first tiebreaker — runs allowed — kept Chamberlain on the outside looking in.
“I should have looked closer at the tiebreak rules before. I didn't know how the tourney ran,” Diez said. “We had a game (Friday) that we could have 10-run ruled but we played everybody.”
The Chiefs (9-4) impressed, coming from behind on Friday to edge River Ridge 7-6, then shaking off a 2-0 deficit to Crystal River to prevail 3-2 in eight innings on Saturday.
The roof fell in Saturday afternoon in depressing fashion in its final consolation contest against Springstead. First sophomore Janel Larrieux was hit in the head with the ball and had to leave the game. Then senior Lani Trent — Chamberlain’s only pitcher — injured her right ankle running the bases, causing the Chiefs to have to forfeit the game and possibly putting a challenging spin on the rest of the season.
“This tournament is good —– I like the teams that are here — and to win three games with one pitcher … we were doing pretty good,” Diez concluded. “But at Palm Harbor, if you win, you get to play for the championship. We came from behind twice to win and it was all for naught.”