TAMPA — Twice this season, Gaither coach Al Alcala watched and winced from his dugout as district nemesis Chamberlain parlayed a Cowboys flub or faulty pitch into one run after another.
But on Thursday, Alcala's grimacing disappeared, as did the Chiefs' normally stout defense.
In the county's most stunning district tournament upset, the fourth-seeded Cowboys (17-9) collected three runs off as many Chamberlain errors in the first two innings to eliminate the top-seeded Chiefs 3-2 in the Class 5A, District 9 semifinals at Sickles.
Gaither meets No. 2 Sickles, a 10-0 winner against Freedom, in the final at 7 tonight. Chamberlain stays home for the state playoffs for the first time since 1997.
"You can't give runs away, especially this time of the year," Chiefs coach Bob Diez said. "If it's a different time of the year you say, 'Well, you had a bad one.' It's just a bad time to have a bad one."
The Cowboys, by contrast, were efficient defensively (one error) and opportunistic at the plate. Leading the way was senior Kristen McGrath, who went the distance in the circle and finished 3-for-3 with two doubles.
McGrath accounted for her team's first run in the first inning when she doubled and scored on an error. Gaither added two runs in the second on a pair of two-out errors. McGrath held Chiefs sophomore slugger Bianka Bell without a hit. With two out and Chiefs senior Stephanie Medina (3-for-3, two RBIs) on third, McGrath forced a grounder to end it.
"The key to (Thursday) was keeping Bell off base, keeping the ball down and making the plays," Alcala said. "We've been able to outhit teams; it's just making the routine plays."
Sickles (22-4) got three RBIs from pitcher Chelsea Oglevie and two more from Courtney Goff in its 10-hit romp of Freedom, which ended after five innings via the 10-run mercy rule.