TAMPA — Mitchell's path to the postseason might as well be staggered with brick walls.
The toughest roadblocks have always come in Class 6A, District 7 — arguably one of the state's most potent alignments.
The Mustangs now have an answer for navigating through this final season before moving to a new district — the talented pitching duo of Olivia Kline and Cortney Radke and a strong defense.
Mitchell's aces played significant roles Wednesday in a 2-1 win against Sickles in a 6A-7 semifinal. The win advanced the Mustangs to Friday's final against Countryside, a 2-0 winner over Gaither. More importantly it secured Mitchell's first region quarterfinal berth since winning the district in 2006.
"I would love for someone around here to come and tell me they have a stronger strength of schedule than we do playing the Hillsborough and Pasco teams we play," Mitchell coach Scott Bisbe said. "I think it helps us, it makes us a better team."
Kline earned the start and was smooth through the first three innings, helping to retire nine of the first 10 batters.
In the fourth, the Mitchell (19-7) offense loaded the bases with no outs before Radke smacked a line drive at Gryphons pitcher Chelsea Oglevie, who knocked it down and fired home. Instead of getting the force out, the ball was dropped by catcher Mya Anderson allowing Kline to score for a 1-0 lead. A single to center by Sara Brock then scored Amy Petrella to make it 2-0.
The Gryphons (20-5) quickly made a pitching change, and Alyese Stapf got the next three outs ending the inning on a double play.
Sickles staged a comeback in the fifth with back-to-back singles, including the second by Niki Hall. Her hit snuck past the centerfielder's glove, allowing Stapf to score from first and cutting into Mitchell's lead at 2-1.
Bisbe immediately pulled Kline in favor of Radke.
"We had a quick hook for Olivia because we had Radke warming up the whole time," Bisbe said. "We were planning on pitching them both anyway. We made some big plays and got out of that inning. It's just a huge win."
Radke appeared poised through the remaining innings and got out of trouble in the seventh with Anderson standing in scoring position before getting the final batter to ground out to second.
"The last inning really got me shaking because I know (Anderson) can hit good," Radke said. "I was trying just to get it to move, trying to keep them off the bases. It's a lot of pressure."
Izzy Gould can be reached at email@example.com or (813) 226-3458.