BROOKSVILLE — Nature Coast and Hernando have been on a collision course since the season began. Wednesday, they officially set up a meeting in the Class 5A, District 7 final.
The No. 2-seeded Sharks beat Zephyrhills 7-1 and No. 1 Hernando beat Central 4-1 in the semifinals at Tom Varn Park. They meet at 7:30 tonight.
Abbey Primavera led Nature Coast (22-3), allowing four hits in her 12th complete game of the year. In her first postseason appearance, the freshman struck out four and walked one.
"I came prepared," Primavera said. "I feel like I've been doing a better job of keeping the ball down, and Coach (Ernie) Chatman has emphasized that with me."
Primavera (12-3) got plenty of support against the Bulldogs (13-12).
Brittney Rodriguez went 3-for-3 with a run scored and RBI. The leftfielder is 7-for-7 in the tournament. Leadoff hitter Kat Gonzalez went 2-for-3 with two runs scored. Nature Coast racked up 13 hits with nine players getting at least one.
"Brittany had struggled for parts of the season coming out after basketball," Chatman said. "She's gotten some confidence lately, and getting base hits is always going to do that."
Chatman now has guided three programs to the state playoffs. He previously reached the state semifinals with Hernando Christian and Hernando.
No. 5 Central (6-20) reached the semifinals by upsetting No. 4 Pasco on Tuesday. But its magic ran out.
Kaeleen Koehler (6-18) kept the Bears close by allowing only two earned runs. But she was topped by Courtney Riddle (24-1). The senior's two-hitter included 14 strikeouts, one off her career high set against Springstead last year.
"I went onto the field knowing this game might have been the last time I play high school ball, so I was focused," Riddle said. "I have to look at every team we face like they are the best team in the state."
Megan Lane, who came in with a team-high .571 batting average, went 3-for-3 with her 59th stolen base of the season and a run scored for the Leopards (24-2). Summer Solovitch (1-for-2 and a walk) had the biggest hit, a two-run single in the third.
"Coaches always say big-time players step up at big time moments," Hernando coach Kevin Bittinger said. "The girls know the expectations, and I think (the district final) will take care of itself."
6A-10: Host and overwhelming favorite Mitchell did the expected, but the other semifinal featured a bit of a surprise.
The Mustangs topped Dixie Hollins 6-3 and face No. 3 seed Osceola, which routed Springstead 14-4.
The Warriors are 12-13 but headed to the playoffs with Mitchell. The two meet in the final at 7 tonight.
Mitchell (23-3) scored a pair of unearned runs in the first and later jumped to a 5-0 lead. That was enough for Jordan Fowler, who struck out seven in a four-hitter. She added a deep, run-scoring hit for a 6-2 lead.
That turned pretty valuable when Dixie plated a run in the seventh and had runners on first and second. Fowler got shortstop Carlee Lucas to pop up to end the game.
Madison Staniloiu connected on a solo homer in the fifth, and Samantha Renzetti's second RBI single of the night made it 5-0. Samantha Ross answered with a two-run homer for the Rebels (6-11).
Fowler was in the middle of a wild double play to end the fifth. With a runner on first, Brittnie Vandonge hit a rope to Renzetti at third base. The ball deflected straight up and over to Fowler, who caught it and threw to first.
Meanwhile, Osceola coach Jerry King went to extreme measures to prepare his batters for its opponent.
"We had our hitters go up against the left-handed (pitching) machine. I think they got about 500 swings each," he said.
The Warriors looked plenty ready for Springstead lefty Louisa Disi, collecting 15 hits, including four straight in the first for a 3-0 lead.
Singles by Becca Bunday and MacKenna Willis were followed by a double from Hannah Ciatto to make it 2-0. Rae Piscitello doubled to make it 3-0. It would have been 5-0 on another double by Lindsey Hall, but Ciatto was ruled to have not touched home plate.
That ended up not mattering thanks to Warriors pitcher Sarah Huskey. The lefty injured her back a few weeks ago and had been eased back into duty.
"I felt awesome. I was excited to face them," said Huskey, who did not pitch in either regular-season game against Springstead, which Osceola lost 11-6 and 7-4.
Brittny Desmond had two doubles for Springstead (13-10), and Disi went 2-for-4 with an RBI.
The Warriors didn't have the reaction of a team that had pulled an upset.
"Last year, we had Lakewood Ranch and Palmetto in our district," King said. "This year, we gave (Springstead) a game both times we played them."
Mitchell beat Osceola 12-2 and 8-3 during the regular season while rolling to an 8-0 district record.
Class 2A-8: Defending state champion 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. Taylor Bump, Hailey Hopkins, Maddie Posey and Danielle Romanello hit home runs for Canterbury.
Staff writer Bob Putnam and correspondent Darek Shark contributed to this report.