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Rams have grown into a good team at the right time

During the regular season, Ridgewood did not make one mistake and then no others. It did not hit in timely fashion. And most certainly, it did not have first baseman Brittany Fischer making lunging, twisting Willie Mays-like catches.

"Brittany does not make those kind of catches," joked coach Marlyn Bavetta about her junior's game-ending catch in the district championship game. "That's why you saw Chrissy (Bavetta) and Shanna (Bouie) right behind her, backing it up."

Fischer's catch makes it pretty clear these are not the same Rams who unimpressed for most of the season. Talent was never the issue, but rarely were the Rams able to play a clean game. Until now.

In possibly their finest and most flawless outing of the season, the Rams won a district crown (4-0 over Sickles) and earned the right to host South Lake tonight at 7:30 in a Class 5A, North II Regional quarterfinal game.

That a team with "Ridge" in its name is in the state playoffs is no surprise, but most expected that team to be River Ridge. Instead, the Rams beat the Knights to earn the No. 1 seed in the district, while the Knights continued their late-season collapse. Ridgewood will be trying to win its first regional game since 1992, when it went on to win a state championship.

"If we play like we did Friday night we can go all the way," said senior centerfielder Tiffany Fischer. "That game was the best we played all year. We were pumped the whole game."

Ridgewood had a blend of youth and experience that took a while to, well, blend. Everyone has a different explanation for why the Rams are 17-11 and not, say, 22-6.

"I think we all started playing up to our potential," said catcher Vanessa Farmer. "I don't know what was wrong before."

Two explanations that make the most sense: The team is young _ two freshmen start at the key positions of shortstop and third base _ and, as a result, mistakes had a greater impact than they should have.

"I think we had all played before, against each other in (other) leagues," said senior second baseman Chrissy Bavetta. "Now I think we all get along pretty good. Now when we make mistakes we don't let it get us down."

In the district semifinal, pitcher Amy Birch (who will start tonight) fired a routine double-play throw into centerfield to put runners on second and third with no outs. The Rams got out of the inning. And against Sickles, an error and wild pitch put the tying run on third base with no outs, and three defensive plays later the shutout was preserved.

"We used to make an error and then make two or three more right in a row," said Chrissy Bavetta. "We don't do that anymore."

Against South Lake, the Rams will face a team that went to the state final four as a Class 4A team. The Eagles (17-8) lost just two players from that team, although shortstop Chrissy Mixson, who was hitting .560, is no longer on the team.

Megan Grimes (15-7, 0.70 ERA) will start for the Eagles.

REGIONAL SOFTBALL AT A GLANCE

5A-NORTH II QUARTERFINAL

WHO: Ridgewood (17-11) vs. South Lake (17-8).

WHEN: Tonight, 7:30 p.m.

WHERE: Ridgewood High School.

OUTLOOK: The Rams played two excellent games at the district tournament, beating Gulf and Sickles. Pitcher Amy Birch pitched all 14 innings, allowing just seven hits in a pair of shutouts. "Right now I'm stepping up," said Birch, who has been bothered by a sore left knee. "I've been on a roll lately." The Rams' biggest strength lately has been the bottom of the order, where Kerri Lane, Vanessa Farmer and Nikki Drake combined to go 8-for-17 with five RBI in the district tourney. The Rams scored 10 of their 12 runs in the sixth inning of the two games. South Lake lost just three games last season, but struggled this year with the move up to Class 5A. Shortstop Chrissy Mixson was hitting .560 before leaving the team last week, but sister Rachel is still around and batting .460 with 30 RBI.

4A-NORTH II QUARTERFINAL

WHO: Hudson (16-11) vs. Citrus (23-8).

WHEN: Today, 7 p.m.

WHERE: Citrus High School.

OUTLOOK: The Cobras will try to rebound from a one-hit loss at the hands of Hernando in the district championship game. Jesse Clougher (12-8) will likely start for Hudson on the mound. Third baseman Tera Steffan leads the Cobras in hitting, and leadoff hitter Nicole Sessa leads in steals. Even with a loss, the Cobras will have the best season in school history, beating last year's 16-13 mark. Citrus went to the Class 5A state final last year, and returned every starter but one. Pitcher Gina Reynolds was the 1997 North Suncoast Player of the Year. The Hurricanes have had trouble getting things turned on this year, but when they do they are one of the best hitting and fielding teams in the state.

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