The good news Tuesday was that injured River Ridge pitching ace Tiffany Martin was cleared by doctors to throw. The bad news? She was only cleared to throw overhand.
Unfortunately for River Ridge, pitchers have to throw underhanded, and without their ace the Royal Knights surrendered 11 walks, three wild pitches and a hit batter.
First-year Sickles took full advantage as the Royal Knights' once-promising season ended Tuesday night when the Gryphons knocked them out of the Class 5A, District 8 tournament with an eight-inning, 8-6 win at Land O'Lakes.
"We gave them gifts," said River Ridge coach Ernie Beck.
The gifts came in the field, where the Royal Knights committed four errors and another four of the mental variety; and on the mound, where four of the first five Gryphons to score did so after getting a free pass to first.
Even so, the Royal Knights (17-11) outhit Sickles 13-8 and almost capped a dramatic comeback with a win. They trailed 6-4 with two out in the bottom of the seventh inning before tying the game.
With Christy Taylor already on first after her third single of the game, Lundy Pixton walked. A wild pitch moved both runners up.
Erin Pixton had taken 11 straight pitches in her last two at-bats before slicing a 3-2 offering down the rightfield line to score sister Lundy and Taylor to tie the game.
The momentum was short-lived.
Melissa Brumbaugh got the first two Gryphon batters out in the top of the eighth, but Leah Hussey stroked a single to left. Leftfielder Soraya Reddick cracked a long drive to the rightfield gap for her second triple to give Sickles a 7-6 lead. Elisa Haintz walked, and then took off for second. River Ridge got her in a rundown, but Haintz made it safely back to first base as Reddick raced home.
"I thought we (were going to win), especially when we got two outs in eighth," said Beck. "I figured we were fired up and getting stronger."
In the other game, Gulf (10-9) turned a triple play to key a 4-3 win over Tarpon Springs, the Buccaneers' first district tourney win since 1995.
Trailing 3-2, the Spongers (8-15) tied the game in the top of the third inning and had the bases loaded with no out. But Gulf shortstop Gabby Henderson snagged a sinking line shot, tagged the runner leading off second base and then threw to first base to complete a triple play.
In the bottom of the inning, Liz Leoty walked, was sacrificed to second and then stole third before scoring on Kelly Parker's groundout.
Leoty, the speedy centerfielder, was 2-for-2 with two walks, two steals and two runs for the Bucs.
Becky Stanzione held off Tarpon Springs the rest of the way for a complete-game win. The Bucs meet top-seeded Ridgewood in one semifinal today at 5 p.m.
Sickels will face the winner of Tuesday's late Land O'Lakes-Springstead game in the other semifinal.
4A-8: Barthle single
DADE CITY _ Bulldog junior shortstop Drulene Barthle drilled two hits but none more important than her run-scoring single in the fifth, scoring Alicia McAdams for the go-ahead run as No. 5 seed Zephyrhills eliminated No. 5 Pasco, 6-4.
With the score knotted at 4, McAdams reached on a one-out walk off of Pasco pitcher Trish Barthle (0-3) who went the first five innings. Elaina McAdams followed with a single to right before Bulldog pitcher Jennifer Strickland flied out.
Drulene Barthle then nailed a 3-1 offering, scoring Alicia McAdams before Trish Barthle's wild pitch added an insurance run.
"I was ready to hit tonight," Drulene Barthle said. "We split during the regular season, but this is the only game that counts. Thius gives us a lot of confidence. It's a big first step."
Strickland (2-0) scattered nine Pasco hits in seven innings, issuing four walks while fanning two.
"I was pumped up tonight," Strickland said. "It's my senior year, and it's Pasco. I really wanted to go out and get them. Tonight, we never got down and that was the deciding thing."
Bulldog coach Pat Moul, who had watched her club drop nine of its past 10 (5-22 overall), concurred.
"The kids really wanted it today, and it showed," Moul said. "We did not allow ourselves to get down. We sure picked the right time to make things happen. From here on out is all heart."
Coach Jim Ward's Pitaes (7-20) dropped their seventh straight game despite senior Susan Dawson's team-leading two singles.
"Zephyrhills is a scrappy team," Ward said. "They've been so all year. They're the kind of team that has nothing to lose. Give credit tonight to Strickland, she really battled."
_ TONY CASTRO
4A-7: Lake Weir avenges
losses, ousts Pirates
INVERNESS _ A decided favorite going into the tournament, Crystal River provided an example of why the second season is a different ballgame.
The Pirates had run roughshod over Lake Weir in their two previous meetings, but on Tuesday the storyline took an abrupt about-face as an energized Lake Weir squad rallied for a 9-5 win and a berth in today's semifinal at 4 p.m. against top-seeded Lecanto.
"I knew (Lake Weir) was getting better and I think the girls were just a little too lackadaisical about them," Pirates coach Laura Wingate said. "It's a bummer. I thought we were starting to play better and I thought we were elevating our play to where it needed to be coming into districts."
The Hurricanes (9-14) made it apparent almost from the beginning that they were a different team from the one Crystal River saw earlier in the year. Lake Weir struck for three runs in the second inning, taking advantage of a costly passed ball and RBI singles from Terri Kaufman and Stacy Defosse.
The Pirates (9-15) answered in the bottom of the inning when a catching error by the Lake Weir second baseman allowed Jamie Colegrove and Monique Bunch to trot home with ease. Crystal River grabbed its only lead in the fourth on four base hits, scoring two runs off a throwing error by Hurricanes catcher Stephanie Kaufman, but allowed Lake Weir to retake command with two runs in the fifth.
Crystal River tied the game at 5-5 in the sixth when Rachel Bruns reached on an walk and came home when the Hurricanes rightfielder dropped Courtney Schulker's line drive. However, that would be it for the Pirates. After a groundout by Defosse in the top of the seventh, Lake Weir got four straight base hits, scoring four runs for a 9-5 lead. Crystal River went down in order in its final at-bat. _ CAREY FREEMAN