BROOKSVILLE — Although it didn't result in a championship, Hernando made a significant statement during this weekend's Leopard Slam Tournament.
Fort Lauderdale University won the eight-team event by beating the Leopards in the championship 4-0 on Saturday.
Hernando (10-6) and the Suns (14-2) were locked in a scoreless tie for the first four innings with the two pitching aces in a duel. University's Ashley Rey had eight strikeouts through four and finished the game with 15. She surrendered five hits and walked three.
"We faced an A-plus pitcher out there (Saturday)," Hernando coach Kevin Bittinger said. "We went toe to toe with them, and I am extremely happy with how we played.
"That's a state contender we lost to."
Leopards starter Courtney Riddle had tossed nine innings in the tournament coming into the final. During that span, she hadn't given up a run and allowed only one infield single.
Riddle kept that wave of momentum going against one of the best teams she has ever faced by shutting it out early. But in the fifth, the tide turned. Some rain began to fall, and the Suns' bats woke up.
Abbie Johnson led off the inning with a single. After a flyout, singles by Linette Flores and Gabi Martinez loaded the bases. Maddie Gott's two-run double was enough to put University up for good.
Sunlake (11-5) won the consolation final, 12-2 in five innings over Crystal River (10-5).
In the semifinal games earlier Saturday, Hernando knocked off Sunlake 7-1 while University narrowly defeated Crystal River 4-2.
"Hopefully, we start to get some of the respect I feel this team deserves," Bittinger said. "We play in a tough district, and we hang tough with everyone."