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A Rowe-Reynolds special

It is a rivalry that extends back almost 10 years and one that likely will come to a climactic conclusion in tonight's Class 4A, District 7 softball final.

And while Lecanto's Michelle Rowe and Citrus' Gina Reynolds were both excited about being in this position, both acknowledged a tinge of sadness over what could be the final chapter to their long-time rivalry.

"It seems like it's always been me and Gina, Lecanto and Citrus," Rowe said after her team beat Lake Weir 7-3 in Wednesday's district semifinals. "This will probably be the last time we meet and I've come to the realization that it's over. It's kind of sad. I feel like a senior. I want high school to end, but I don't want softball to end."

That will not be much of a problem for two of the most heralded softball players to come out of Citrus County. Reynolds, who guided her team to the Class 5A finals last year, will continue her career at Santa Fe Community College in Gainesville. Rowe led Lecanto to the 4A state title in 1996 and plans to continue her career at Ricks College in Idaho, though she has yet to commit.

That said, both are well aware of the importance and conclusive nature of today's 6 p.m. matchup at Citrus. Hollywood script writers couldn't have created a more fitting matchup.

For the last three years, Reynolds and Rowe have dominated spring headlines. In 1996, Rowe turned the heads of the Florida softball world toward Citrus County, overcoming state power Lake Wales in the state final and erasing the sneers of many of the softball elite. Earlier that year, she outdueled Reynolds and Laura Helt in an 18-inning contest that further fueled the rivalry.

But Rowe's defense left her last year (her catcher, shortstop and centerfielder all graduated) and Reynolds and Citrus stepped into the spotlight along with Crystal River. The Pirates, after an impressive run, bowed out to Lake Region in the 4A semifinals. But Citrus, continuing the trend set by Lecanto a year earlier, posted a stunning 2-1 win over three-time champion and perennial power Naples Barron Collier before a 1-0 loss to a dynamite team from Stuart Martin County in the state final.

"I'm glad we get a chance to play them again," said Reynolds, whose team split two regular-season games with Lecanto and overcame a five-run deficit for a 6-5 win over Dunnellon on Wednesday..

"And it should be a good game and a memorable game. At least it will be for me. We've played against each other since Little League and there has always been a competitiveness between us and between Lecanto and Citrus. I'll miss it."

Of course, there is a chance the two could meet again. Since each will advance to regional play, should Lecanto and Citrus post more four wins over the next two weeks (three in regional competition, one in the state semifinals), they would meet in the 4A final.

"I think that would prove that this county has pretty good softball," Lecanto coach Amy Lilley said. "They might even start calling us Naples."