CLEARWATER — Grab a pillow, pack some snacks and lather on plenty of sunscreen.
Whenever Countryside and Pinellas Park meet on the softball field, it's an all-day affair.
Last year, the teams battled through 12 innings before Countryside prevailed 5-1.
Thursday's meeting continued where the last left off. Countryside starter Alyssa Bache and Pinellas Park lefty Sara Nevins mowed through two of the county's best lineups, combining for 34 strikeouts (Bache had 18, Nevins 16). Pinellas Park, though, took advantage of an error to open the 12th inning and became the only county team to defeat Countryside after a 1-0, 12-inning victory.
"The best pitchers in the county going at it, it's going to be a good game," Pinellas Park catcher Tatum Mcdowell said. "It's going to be long and tiring."
Pinellas Park (21-2) broke through in the 12th inning after leadoff batter Samantha Martin reached second after a throw from Cougars shortstop Brittany Dattilo was over the head of first baseman Paige Oxendine. Nevins tried to sacrifice Martin to third but ended up bunting for a base hit. With runners at the corners and nobody out, Mcdowell smashed a single up the middle score Martin.
"I was very exhausted. I was trying to stay focused and watch (Bache's) rise ball because she does have a good rise ball and throws it frequently," Mcdowell said. "I was just hoping to hit a gap. Second happened to be playing up, and I just punched it through like I wanted."
Nevins (21-2) merely had to retire the side in the 12th as she had done the previous 11 times, however the junior drilled Dineen Vaughan on the arm with her first pitch to put Countryside's leadoff batter on.
Vaughan moved to second on a sacrifice bunt but was stranded after Ashleigh Bynum grounded out and Shenee Thomas struck out swinging on a 1-2 pitch to end the marathon.
"I'll take Sara anytime in deep innings. She may lose a little control, but gut-wise, she doesn't stop," Pinellas Park coach Shane DeMartino said. "The kid's like ice on the mound. I have a hard time finding out when she's having a good time, much less a bad time. … She got her nickname 'Sugar' from where, I don't know. It came with her when she got here.
"But we call her 'Ice' because you never see her get emotional on the mound."
Countryside (15-6) had a chance to win in the 11th inning after leadoff batter Ayanna Andrews singled to centerfield. She stole second and moved to third on a sacrifice bunt. With one out, Devika Choo Chew attempted to squeeze Andrews home, but Nevins fielded the ball and fired to Mcdowell, who grazed Andrews with her glove as the speedy sophomore slid into home.
Andrews reached third base three times but was stranded each time. Tracy Coward advanced to third in the first inning for Pinellas Park, but two Bache (15-6) strikeouts kept her there.
"It was just a matter of which team was going to catch up to which pitcher first," DeMartino said.