BROOKSVILLE — After returning most of its roster from last season's region final appearance, Hernando came into this postseason with something to prove. The journey began with a 3-1 victory over Dunedin in Thursday night's Class 5A region quarterfinal at Tom Varn Park.
"There were a lot of what ifs after last year (in the region final)," Hernando coach Kevin Bittinger said, "but we've proven ourselves time and time again against tough competition."
Courtney Riddle (26-1) was masterful on the mound for the home team, tossing a complete-game three-hitter with no earned runs, no walks and three strikeouts. And although the Leopards (26-2) committed three errors, one of which resulted in the Falcons' lone run, the senior ace controlled the tempo of the game.
"(Courtney) did a good job of working ahead and locating her pitches," Bittinger said. "They have some pretty decent hitters and she kept them off-balance, just like she's done all year."
Riddle's counterpart, Dunedin ace Aubrey Ehlers (16-6), was almost as good against the Hernando lineup. The hurler had only one shaky inning, when the Leopards had four straight two-out hits to score three runs in the third.
Ehlers retired Kaylee Frascatore and Lauren Moore to start the inning before No. 9 hitter Erika Lewis slapped a single. Megan Lane followed by lining a two-strike pitch back up the middle for a single. Danielle Harvey knocked in Lewis with a single, and senior captain Tana McDaniel capped the scoring with a two-run double in the right-centerfield gap.
After a hit by pitch and an error, Dunedin (17-7) scored when Central Florida State College signee Tiona Hill hit a bloop single over first base. Hill will join Riddle at the collegiate level next season, with both signing to the same school.
Hernando advances to Tuesday's region semifinal against River Ridge. The Leopards and Royal Knights split their two games this season.
"If you're going to play River Ridge, you have to ready to play ball," Bittinger said. "They have some unbelievably talented hitters, so you have to pick your battles."