They baffle with speed, take an extra base when they feel like it, and most frustrating is when Sickles challenges you to make the mistakes.
So far, teams at the Class 5A, District 8 tournament have risen to that challenge. No. 2 seeded River Ridge was first. Wednesday night, No. 3-seeded Land O'Lakes took its turn.
Like the Royal Knights, the Gators had difficulty stopping the running antics of the Gryphons and fell in the semifinals 5-2 on their home field.
It took one bad inning to sink the Gators and allow Sickles (17-5) a berth in Friday's 7 p.m. final against Ridgewood, an 8-0 winner over Gulf.
In the fourth inning, with Land O'Lakes leading 1-0, Ashley Patton walked the first two batters on nine pitches. Soraya Reddick grounded to Nicki Clevenger at shortstop, but thirdbaseman Angelique Wood missed Clevenger's perfect throw for the force play, allowing a run to score.
A sacrifice fly made it 2-1 Gryphons, and Wood committed her second error of the inning to allow another run as Sickles scored three times without a hit to take a 3-1 lead.
The best opportunity for Land O'Lakes (12-13) came in the third inning when it took its lead. The Gators had three straight hits, but on two of them runners were thrown out going for extra bases.
Patton had two hits and scored both Gator runs, but Sickles pitcher Julie Henneke did a fine job, striking out eight batters and allowing just four hits.
In the other semi, Ridgewood led 1-0 after five innings, but exploded for seven runs in the bottom of the sixth to seal the win over Gulf (10-10).
The Rams (16-11) had batted around as eight players had hits and another drove in a run with a sacrifice fly. Brittany Fischer was 3-for-4 with two RBI, and Brandy Krieg doubled in two runs in the decisive inning.
Amy Birch allowed four hits and struck out seven in the complete-game win.
4A-8: Leopards, Cobras in
DADE CITY _ A night earlier, Drulene Barthle had a game-winning hit for Zephyrhills against Pasco. On Wednesday, her fifth-inning single thwarted Casey Ellis' no-hit bid.
For Hernando (20-9), that was a small price to pay for a 10-0 semifinal win over Zephyrhills (5-23). Ellis finished with a one-hitter.
Hernando's victory over the defending district champion Bulldogs set up today's championship against Hudson, a 3-2 winner over Central in nine innings. Game time at Pasco High is 7 p.m.
"We did a lot of good things," Hernando coach Ernie Chatman said. "We'll just try to carry it over and keep it in perspective."
Ellis (8-3) got plenty of help from her teammates, who lit up Zephyrhills pitching for 12 hits in five innings.
Leadoff batter Katie Altieri set the tone with four hits and three runs. Shannon Rodgers hit a two-run double and Chrisey Hartley a two-run single in Hernando's five-run second inning.
In the first game, Keri Rulison led off the top of the ninth with a single and gave way to pinch-runner Kristen Walker, who scored the game-winner on Kelly Qualtiere's grounder to second base.
Jennifer Pape and Tracie Ploskonka had back-to-back singles that scored Riki Anlozzi and Jae Hutchinson to give Central (12-11) a 2-1 lead in the fifth, but Hudson tied it in the sixth when Jessie Clougher doubled and scored on Nicole Warder's groundout.
Hudson (16-10) took a 1-0 lead in the second on Jenee Roth's triple that scored Traci DeForest.
Clougher (12-7) struck out eight, walked four and allowed four hits for the win.
_ STEVE LEE
4A-7: Citrus, Lecanto in final
INVERNESS _ Defending Class 5A runner-up Citrus showed the heart of a champion by rallying to an 6-5 victory in eight innings against Dunnellon. And catcher Laura Helt showed the power that makes her one of the most feared batters in the district.
After a three-run rally pulled the Hurricanes (22-8) within 5-2, Helt tied the score in the fifth with a two-run, 245-foot home run over the leftfield fence.
Kari Wilson provided the winning punch in the bottom of the eighth with a lead-off triple. And Melody Fedor closed the door, driving her home on a short grounder. Dunnellon attempted a throw home but Wilson beat the tag.
Citrus faces Lecanto in Friday's 6 p.m. final after the Panthers (24-3) waltzed past Lake Weir 7-3 in the first game. Lecanto broke the game open with four runs in the third inning then added three runs in the fourth.
Michelle Rowe (20-3) carried a perfect game into the fifth and finished with eight strikeouts while giving up four hits.
_ CAREY FREEMAN