PLANT CITY — Go ahead and press a for-real stamp on their stirrups. From offensive speed to defensive sturdiness to a veteran ace in the circle, the Durant Cougars ooze legitimacy.
But as Tuesday night's 1-0 win against Riverview (5-5, 3-4 in Class 5A, District 8) proved, even the most sound of squads need a tad of fortune, a modicum of flukiness, somewhere along the way.
With two out in the bottom of the seventh, junior Nikki Giovenco's two-strike, two-out popup to leftfield was mishandled, allowing Paige "Peanut" Davis to score from second and keep the Cougars (7-0, 4-0) unblemished in 2011.
"It was an unfortunate loss for them but it was a fortunate win for us," said coach Matt Carter, whose starting lineup featured three freshmen and three sophomores.
"We're not playing out of our shoes and we're not playing out of our league, but the girls are playing the way they need to play."
And hitting when they need to hit.
The Cougars, whose first four batters went a combined 1-for-11 against Sharks ace Emily Gaitan (5-5), got a two-out double from Davis — the No. 6 hitter — in the seventh, setting up Giovenco's winner.
It capped a tense duel between Gaitan (five strikeouts, one walk) and Cougars senior Lauren Wolfe (nine Ks, three walks), both of whom tossed three-hitters and got timely defensive support.
Gaitan twice escaped one-out jams with runners in scoring position. In the second, she forced Giovenco to line out to third baseman Samantha Murphy, who then picked Kennedy Dean off second.
Similarly, Wolfe, a Florida Southern signee, recorded three inning-ending strikeouts with runners in scoring position, and watched Giovenco snag a screaming Meagan Brislin shot to left with a runner on first to end the fifth.
Two innings later, she watched Giovenco end things.
"Honestly, part of me was thinking extra innings," Wolfe said, "but I have confidence in these girls, and I was just really expecting them to get on (base) because I know they can."