TARPON SPRINGS — For six innings, Sickles was flawless in its region final at East Lake.
A few cracks, though, began to appear in the Gryphons' veneer in the seventh. And that was all East Lake needed.
The Eagles (26-2), who had 1-0 victories against Boca Ciega and Pinellas Park to reach this final, will advance to Clermont for their second state tournament appearance thanks to another 1-0 win. Rightfielder Abby Hess lined a hit to rightfield with two outs and runners in scoring position to drive in Hayley Davis.
"I just knew that I had to put the ball in play, just pretended like it was practice and tried to relax," said Hess, a junior. "It was on the outside corner. As soon as I saw where it was going, I knew I could hit it."
Davis was the catalyst in the Eagles' region semifinal win over Pinellas Park, and against Sickles (24-6), she led off the seventh against Chelsea Oglevie with a hit.
Sydney Dinelli then sent a high fly ball into shallow leftfield. Three Gryphons converged on the ball, but nobody took charge on the play, and the ball dropped among the three. The Eagles baserunners advanced thanks to a passed ball, putting both in scoring position with no outs.
But Oglevie struck out the next two batters — one looking, one swinging — before Hess ended Sickles' chance of reaching the state tournament for the first time since 2001.
"I wasn't expecting the seventh inning to end the way it did," Sickles coach Phil Giarrizzo said. "It was unfortunate; we made some great defensive plays throughout the game, but that one just happened to drop in out there, which turned out to be the play of the game."
Before the seventh, Oglevie and East Lake starting pitcher Alyssa Bache were locked in a showdown. Each gave up four hits. Oglevie struck out four. Bache fanned 10 batters.
Sickles' Ashli Goff went 3-for-3 and was the only Gryphon to get in scoring position. She had a one-out single in the sixth and a stolen base, but Bache got Danielle Rowe to strike out.
"Alyssa is just a big-game pitcher," East Lake coach Mike Estes said. " … She was here at 4 p.m.; the team wasn't supposed to be here until 5. She was that jacked up. She wanted it that bad."