CLEARWATER — Countryside is not the same team that advanced to the Class 8A state championship game last year. For starters, the Cougars lost six starters (five graduated, one moved).
There were new faces everywhere, including on the mound. Jordan Lewis, a junior, took over the role as the team's ace, replacing Stella Preston, last year's Tampa Bay Times Pinellas County pitcher of the year who is now at Mercer University.
The games are a lot tighter — and longer. One went 10 innings this season. Another lasted 14.
Still, the Cougars (8-3) are finding ways to win.
On Friday, they won for the fourth time in the past six games, beating Bloomingdale 1-0 in the opening round of Palm Harbor University's Lady 'Canes Spring Invitational.
"It's not always pretty but we're finding ways to get it done," Countryside coach Kaylyn Bayly said.
The only run came in the sixth inning — without a hit. Abigail Siegel reached on an error, advanced to third on an error and scored on another error.
That was all Lewis needed. She threw a two-hit shutout and had 10 strikeouts. Lewis has allowed just five hits in her last three games and has gone 15 straight innings without allowing a run.
East Lake 2, Mitchell 0: In one of the opening day's best matchups, the Eagles took an early lead and relied on the pitching of Tori Brennan and an airtight defense to win their fifth straight. Karli Crean had run-scoring single in the second inning and Nicci Palumbo knocked in another run in the third.
Tampa Catholic 6, Robinson 5: The Crusaders (11-2) held off a rally to win their fourth straight. Ahead 4-0, Tampa Catholic watched its lead go away as the Knights (9-2) scored four runs in the fifth to tie the game. The Crusaders bounced back, scoring twice in the sixth to take the lead for good. Alexa Russo went 2-for-4 with three RBIs to lead Tampa Catholic. Claire White and Tara White combined for five hits for Robinson.
Academy of the Holy Names 3, Freedom 1: The Jaguars' offense entered the tournament on a tear, scoring a combined 53 runs in their last three games. Holy Names (8-3) was not able keep up those kind of numbers against Freedom but was still able to do enough to win. Alyssa LoSuaro and Haley Morrell each had two hits for the Jaguars.
Chamberlain 5, Tarpon Springs 1: The Chiefs pulled away in the last three innings to keep their perfect record intact (9-0). Clinging to a 2-1 lead, Chamberlain scored once in the fifth inning and added two more runs in the sixth. Cameryn Maga had two hits for the Spongers (3-5).
"We needed this so bad," Chamberlain coach Bob Diez said. "Tarpon Springs made us work. Shannon Maloney settled down and did a good job for us on the mound."
Palm Harbor University 12, Plant 1: After a slow start, the Hurricanes piled on the runs in a game that was called after five innings because of the mercy rule. Jada Radecki was 2-for-4 with two stolen bases and Kimberly Singer was 3-for-3 with four stolen bases. In all, PHU (12-1) had nine stolen bases. Savanna Bennett allowed two hits and had strikeouts to improve to 7-0.
Newsome 4, Pinellas Park 0: The Wolves are a young team with eight freshmen or sophomores on the roster. The inexperience showed during a 2-4 start to the season. Since then, Newsome (6-5) is starting to put things together. Friday's win was the Wolves fourth in their past five games, the lone loss coming against Palm Harbor University in a game that lasted nine innings. Maggie Trgo had two hits and Maddie Lynn and Abbie McColl each had doubles.
Durant 7, Gaither 0: Sloan Hammons, an FIU commit, threw a five-hit shutout with 10 strikeouts to lead the Cougars (6-4) to their fourth win in the past five games. Hammons, Kayla Lissy and Kelly Swank each had doubles.
Today's schedule: Bloomingdale vs. Tarpon Springs, 9 a.m.; Freedom vs. Plant, 9 a.m.; Mitchell vs. Gaither, 9 a.m.; Robinson vs. Pinellas Park, 9 a.m.; Countryside vs. Chamberlain, 11 a.m.; Academy of the Holy Names vs. Palm Harbor University, 11 a.m.; East Lake vs. Durant, 11 a.m.; Tampa Catholic vs. Newsome, 11 a.m.; Consolation and championship game, 7 p.m.