TAMPA — When the ballpark sound system briefly malfunctioned Friday evening at Jefferson High, players and spectators improvised with a spontaneous a cappella rendition of the national anthem.
Moments thereafter, Dragons freshman Nikki Lopez conquered her own technical difficulty.
Escaping a no-out, bases-loaded jam in the first inning, the 5-foot-3 right-hander scattered five hits the rest of the way en route to a 1-0 triumph against Steinbrenner (4-3, 3-1) in a pivotal Class 4A, District 9 game.
"You know what, this is her third game pitching so far and she said, 'I haven't pitched good yet,' " Dragons coach Eve Suarez said. "But tonight she said, 'I'm ready for it.' "
Employing a curve, screwball and changeup, Lopez recorded seven strikeouts, the most critical one on a called third strike to No. 5 hitter Ann Scios that ended the Warriors' first-inning threat.
Steinbrenner had loaded the bases when Savannah Scott and Kaylee Ferrell singled and Kellee Ramsey reached on an infield error. Lopez then forced cleanup hitter Alia Serafini to hit into a double play before retiring Scios.
Lopez also notched inning-ending strikeouts in the third and fourth with runners in scoring position.
"I knew my team would back me up so I wasn't too nervous (in the first inning)," Lopez said. "A little bit, but not that bad."
Jefferson (4-1, 2-0) would get the only run it would need in the third when shortstop Kalyn "KK" Cenal singled to center, stole second and scored on Nadina Sola's two-out single up the middle.