NEW PORT RICHEY — Although they might have mentally put themselves there about an inning too soon, the Zephyrhills Bulldogs indeed are tied for first place.
Zephyrhills handed Gulf its first District 5A-8 defeat Tuesday, although the Bucs made it interesting in the last at-bat. Gulf trailed 7-1 before getting the winning run at the plate, with Zephyrhills holding on for the 7-4 victory.
"We came out too relaxed there in the seventh, thought the game was over and that's my fault," said Bulldogs coach Craig Milburn. But otherwise the veteran coach loved what he saw as Zephyrhills (12-3) won its seventh straight, all coming after a 4-2 Gulf win one month ago. Both teams are 11-1 in district play.
Karisten Deem improved her record to 7-2 with an assist from Jennifer Rennard in the final inning. After making contact all night — Deem struck out two batters — Gulf started finding holes in the seventh. Rachel Gardner led off with a triple, and when Madison Morlan and Bernie Anderson followed with singles the Bucs had doubled their hit total and made it 7-2.
Then came a big out. Haley McCarthy put on a nice piece of hitting, taking a Deem pitch the opposite way. It looked headed over rightfielder Hannah Borgemenke and would have made it 7-4 with none out; instead she made a flat-footed snag.
Deem walked the bases loaded and Rennard took the mound.
"Some of us might have been a little nervous at that point. I was," she said.
After a wild pitch made it 7-3 Rennard induced a groundball that scored another run. She walked Gulf leadoff hitter Britney Pressler to load the bases, but then snagged a Hanna McCarthy grounder and threw to first to end the threat.
Zephyrhills had three doubles, two by Lindsey Hupp, who credited the Bulldogs' win streak to extra hitting practice they've held since the Gulf loss. She and Skylar Graves doubled as the Bulldogs went up 2-0 in the second inning. Gulf got a run back but then the Bulldogs cashed in on three third-inning errors for a 4-1 lead.
Marissa Gochenour ripped a triple to help extend the lead to 7-1 in the sixth.
Gulf had a rough night overall (five errors) but showed grit. Rightfielder Taylor Cook started off sick and got worse as the game went on, nearly fainting at one point according to coach Rick Hohenthaner.
Then there was Anderson. She dislocated her finger sliding into second base and decided to pop it back into place herself. It led to Anderson leaving the game then returning two innings later.
"I hate not playing," she said. "But that hurt real bad."