TAMPA — The clay barely settled from Gaither hanging onto sole possession of second place in Class 7A, District 8 Tuesday, the Cowboys already were thinking about the top spot.
"We're gunning for Steinbrenner," said Gaither pitcher Sammi Grat, after finishing off her sixth complete-game victory — 2-1 at Freedom — of the season.
She and her teammates will take aim at Steinbrenner on Friday. The Warriors are perfect in district play, including a 9-4 win over Gaither, but the Cowboys (11-3) have won five straight.
Gaither's potent lineup — six starters came into Tuesday with averages of .400 or higher — was held down by Freedom's Grace Street until the top of the sixth. Alex Robbins sliced a triple for the game's first run, then scored on a wild pitch.
Freedom (9-7) answered when freshmen Gracie Seidl and Brandee Mull got on base to start the bottom half, and were moved over on a perfect bunt from Ashlee Markovitz. Street then singled to make it 2-1, but a wild play helped Gaither stay ahead. Mallory McManus nubbed a ball that was a good 5 feet foul, but spun back to first baseman Payton Hiday.
"I've never seen that happen," Hiday said. "I jumped for it off the bat, but it was going foul, then it just came back to me."
Grat, whose ERA actually rose but is still under 1.00, only struck out two while allowing seven hits. Standout Patriots Maddy Hall (.476) and Rachel Carlson (.553) both went 0-for-4, but neither struck out.
"With my defense I don't feel like I have to strike everybody out," Grat said.
Catcher Elizabeth Mason ended the night with a hustling grab for a popout, Freedom's sixth of the night. Freedom had the bases loaded with one out in the fourth but popped up two straight pitches.
Freedom's defense was pretty strong, too, highlighted by second baseman Lauren Hall's running catch to end the fourth. It stranded Gaither slugger Bethany Kursch, who had crushed a double to the 225-foot wall, an easy home run in most area parks.
One would be Gaither's 200-foot arrangement, where the Cowboys welcome in Steinbrenner on Friday. Hiday and Co. were already hatching a trend for their Twitter accounts.
"#BeatSteinbrenner," she said.