WESLEY CHAPEL — At the forefront of every Hernando player’s mind was the Leopards’ 7-5 loss to Cypress Creek more than a week ago in the Class 5A, District 7 championship game.
Heading into Wednesday night’s Class 5A region semifinal vs. the Coyotes, Hernando thought it had something to prove in the fourth matchup of the season between the schools. The Leopards were able to avenge the district championship loss and move on to the region final.
The Leopards held off another comeback effort by the Coyotes (15-9) , winning 8-7. Hernando will have a quick turnaround and play again Friday night at Santa Fe.
“We definitely had something to prove here tonight,” Hernando pitcher Ali Shenefield said. “... We know that when it is time to bring it, we are here to play.”
Shenefield made sure she kept the Cypress Creek offense at bay, as the senior struck out 11 batters on the evening. After Hernando (26-3) jumped out to a 3-0 lead, Cypress Creek answered with a two-run homer to leftfield by senior Jasmine Jackson.
The Coyotes ended up playing catchup for the middle part of the game and a controversial bases-clearing triple by Leopard sophomore Lauren Sullivan brought Cypress Creek coach Michael Peterson out of the dugout. After a discussion with the umpires, they ruled the hit down the third-base line was in play and Hernando took a commanding 7-3 lead.
Cypress Creek trailed 8-4 going into the bottom of the seventh inning. The Coyotes got a two-run double, scoring Rachel Brocato and Ashley Nickisher to pull within 8-7 with two outs. But Shenefield got Paige Mulford to ground out, sending the Leopards into the region final for the third consecutive season.
“We kind of just stop scoring there after the fourth inning,” Hernando coach Kevin Bittinger said. “Coach (Peterson) over there does a great job of getting his girls prepared to face (Shenefield). They hit off (Shenefield) better than any team I’ve seen in the last couple of seasons.”