CLEARWATER — The reason for Countryside losing three of its previous five games could have been written in boldface capital letters, underlined and highlighted with a fluorescent marker.
Defensive miscues were the culprit, including two costly ones in an eight-inning loss to Northeast two weeks ago that dropped Countryside from the top of the Class 7A, District 9 standings.
On Tuesday, the Cougars were determined not to beat themselves again in their rematch with the Vikings. Countryside's defense was nearly perfect with key plays that bailed the team out of several jams. In the bottom of the eighth, the offense came through as Sommer Pollard hit a single that brought home Brooke Sharpe in a 1-0 victory.
"The defense kept us in it, and I felt like it was only a matter of time before we got something going on offense," Cougars coach Kaylyn Bayly said. "Just looking at who we had coming up in the eighth, it seemed like we could get something done there."
Countryside (7-3) went through three pitchers — Alyssa Queen, Samantha Ramasanto and Stella Preston — none of whom are strikeout specialists. That puts a premium on the defense to make plays. The Cougars came through, leaving the Vikings with nine base runners stranded.
Northeast runners were twice thrown out at home. The Cougars got out of other jams, too, including a bases-loaded, one-out situation in the sixth inning, and runners at first and second with one out in the eighth.
"We have a really strong outfield and anyone playing out there can catch and has a good enough arm to throw anyone out," Bayly said.
Countryside had its chances, as well. The Vikings thwarted most of them. It wasn't until the eighth that the Cougars were able to capitalize with Sharpe and Andrea Fredericks each singling to set up Pollard's winning hit.
"I was just looking to hit a level shot," Pollard said. "I wanted to get a hit that could end the game and that was a good time to get it."
The Vikings, who started 5-0, have lost three straight, all coming against district opponents. Kayla Stellwag led Northeast on offense with three hits.
PHU's early lead holds
PALM HARBOR — The Seminole-Palm Harbor University rivalry still sizzles, even if Tuesday's game was mostly one-sided and the teams are no longer district foes.
The 'Canes (8-1) exploded in the second inning, taking a 10-1 lead and putting the Warhawks under threat of a mercy rule. To Seminole's credit, it got three runs in the fifth inning and another in the sixth but ultimately fell 15-7 to PHU.
The Warhawks (7-3) got one run in the first and the 'Canes got two. Then PHU stepped up to bat in the second and devoured starting pitcher Brooke McEntire. McEntire got the first two outs in the inning but an error put nine-hitter Kelsy Levee on base and leadoff hitter Alayna Gallagher doubled her in. Baily Wilson singled in Gallagher and Logyn Lilley crushed a two-run homer over the wall in left-center.
The 'Canes weren't done. Rachel Taylor doubled off the wall, Katie Flanagan walked, then Seminole brought on Julia McQueen in relief. Only Rebekah Mooneyhan blooped one into right that found the turf and two more runs scored.
Then in the third, the 'Canes got into the Warhawk bullpen again, when Taylor crushed a two-run homer over the rightfield wall. It brought Jordan Day out, and she got out of the inning, stranding three base runners.
PHU coach Kerry Katchuk started making substitutions in the bottom of the fourth with a five-inning mercy ruling in sight.
"I've got 11 freshmen and 22 kids on the team that work just as hard as any of the other," Katchuk said. "They swing the bats okay, too, and they need playing time."
Seminole's Mackenzie Jahn had other ideas. The junior sent a three-run homer over the leftfield wall and turned the game into seven innings. Lilley, who closed out the final two innings on the mound, was 4-for-4 with a double, a home run, a walk and three RBIs and three solid putouts from third base. Taylor, batting fourth, was 3-for-5 with two doubles, a home run and three RBIs.
"Logyn is a special player, but has been behind the last two county players of the year at third (base)," Katchuk said.
Andy Warrener, Times correspondent