TAMPA — Emily Small hadn't pitched in nearly a year when Tampa Catholic coach Mark Braddy called on her to provide depth going into the Class 4A, District 10 tournament.
Small never thought she would pitch again after taking a break to play mainly centerfield this season. But after practicing off a mound, the junior knew it was up to her.
Small appeared in her first game Tuesday, throwing four innings of two-hit ball in a 13-3 semifinal rout of host Berkeley Prep. But her most difficult task was yet to come.
In Wednesday's final against Academy of the Holy Names, Braddy called on Small with one out in the third to relieve Gabby Perez. After walking the bases loaded, the right-hander got out of the jam with a pair of popouts.
That momentum led to a three-run fourth and a 4-0 victory as the Crusaders ended the Jaguars' three-year district title streak.
"It was pressure," said Small, who struck out six over 42/3 innings. "But I like pressure because I know my team's there to defend me."
TC loaded the bases in the first and second but didn't get a clutch hit against Allie Weachter.
But after Bryn Bostad was hit by a pitch and Madison Epperson reached with an infield single in the fourth, a throwing error on a grounder by Courtney Carson broke the scoreless tie. Two batters later, Kaylyn Carson drove in her older sister from third with a single to make it 3-0.
Jennifer Rogers provided an insurance run in the sixth, scoring on a wild pitch. From there, Small sealed TC's first title since 2010.
"We had a lot of confidence in her knowing that she could get her team through it," Braddy said. "And she willed herself through it."
8A-7: Allison Carroll's two-run walkoff single in the eighth lifted Alonso past Wharton 4-3 in a semi at Riverview. Jessica Warren and Amanda Wetzel had a double and triple, respectively, for the Ravens (21-4), who play Bloomingdale in the final at 7 tonight. The Bulls (23-2) beat Newsome 1-0, scoring on a passed ball. "We can't wait," Alonso coach Robin Kopp said of the final. "The game can't get here fast enough."
7A-7: Durant staved off a comeback while Plant City pulled out a win after giving up the lead to reach tonight's 7 p.m. final at Brandon.
Down 7-1 to Durant, Strawberry Crest got five in the sixth. But the Cougars scored three in the seventh for a 10-6 win.
"That was a good game until that (sixth) inning," Durant coach Matt Carter said.
Plant City held a 1-0 lead on East Bay, which took a 2-1 lead and later tied it at 4. The Raiders won in the bottom of the seventh on Makenzie Allen's double.
"For a half-second (missing the state playoffs) may have crossed my mind," Plant City coach Maggie Feix said. "But we have a positive attitude. It's just a calm feeling. It's just a confidence we have."
Durant was powered by centerfielder Shannon Bell, who had three of her team's 16 hits and drove in a career-high six runs.
"I wasn't trying to do anything big," the senior said. "I was just trying to make contact and get something going."
Morgan Slater also had three hits and matched teammate Brooke Freeman with three runs scored to back the pitching of freshman Sloan Hammons. She scattered seven hits with six walks and six strikeouts.
Carey Simmons had a two-run single during Strawberry Crest's big sixth. And three runs scored on bases-loaded walks. Carter replaced Hammons with Bayli Johns during the inning, but Hammons returned to pitch a scoreless seventh.
Down 1-0, East Bay rallied in the sixth, taking a 2-1 lead on three hits, including Angelica Garcia's run-scoring single, and an error. Plant City made it 4-2 in the sixth with two unearned runs and Alexis Williams' pinch-hit RBI single. East Bay tied it on Taylor Baker's two-run triple in the seventh.
In the bottom half, one-out singles by winning pitcher Noelle Dietrich and Emilly Molina set up Allen's winning double.
6A-9: Chamberlain coach Bob Diez had a game he'd prefer to forget. Jefferson senior rightfielder Chelsea Gray had one she will always remember.
The top-seeded Chiefs overcame a 3-0 first-inning deficit and threw out the tying run at second for the final out of a 7-5 win over Blake in the semifinals.
In the other semifinal, Gray's first career extra-base hit, a bases-loaded double, highlighted an eight-run fourth that lifted the No. 2 Dragons to a five-inning 10-0 win against Hillsborough. Chamberlain (24-3) and Jefferson (14-6) play at 7 tonight.
Chamberlain, the state's second-ranked team, took the lead for good on a two-run double by Kelsi Mays in a fourth-run fifth. The tying run came on a Blake infield error.
The Chiefs carried a 7-3 lead into the seventh, but the Yellow Jackets (11-10) scored twice and had a runner on with two outs. Vicki Bailey then sent a grounder toward pitcher Olivia Dwyer, who threw wildly to first. But rightfielder Megan Maloney retrieved the ball and threw out Bailey at second to end the game.
"We had too many strikeouts (eight), and we couldn't field balls in the infield," Diez said. "They played very tentative. They played scared. We challenge people (at Chamberlain). Obviously, this team can't handle that."
Gray, the Dragons' No. 9 hitter who transferred after three years at Blake, drove in the game's first three runs with her drive to right-center against Hillsborough (8-13). The hit came 20 minutes after a fly ball she lost in the sun hit her left temple.
"Coach (Eve Suarez) wanted me to come out, but I didn't want to," Gray said. "(On the double), I really wasn't even thinking about how many people were on base. My head was hurting really bad, so I just wanted to hit it hard."
5A-9: After scoring seven in the fourth to take a lead against Middleton in the semi, Spoto's infielders met at third base, put their hands together and yelled "Defense!" They were close to their first win of the season. But Middleton scored 12 over the final three innings to beat Spoto (0-16) 19-11. Middleton (5-14) plays host Robinson (10-9), the top seed in the three-team district, at 7 tonight. "They learned how to win tonight," Tigers coach Robert Dodson said. "They come from a school where winning is not a tradition. And they found a way to go on."
3A-7: Rachel Seifert pitched Seffner Christian past Tampa Prep 13-0 in a semi at Fest Field. It faces Carrollwood Day, which beat Brooks DeBartolo 4-3, at 5 today. The Crusaders (15-3) lost twice to the Patriots (13-7) twice during the regular season to do so. "For some reason, Carrollwood Day had our number," coach Gary Blessin said. "But the girls are really excited to get a chance to play them again."
2A-8: Defending state champ and host Canterbury had little trouble advancing in a 15-0 win over Hernando Christian in a semifinal called after four innings because of the mercy rule. The Crusaders play Lakeside Christian, a 15-4 winner over Bayshore Christian, at 6 tonight.
Times staff writer Kelly Parsons and correspondents Don Jensen and Steve Lee contributed to this report.