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Citrus Park rolling along

The only thing host Citrus Park didn't have in its favor Thursday was the weather.

Using a combination of solid hitting, pitching and defense, Citrus Park beat Union Park 13-2 in the first game of pool play in the state Major softball tournament.

But as Citrus Park was warming up for its 4 p.m. contest against Yulee, the Section 3 champion, lightning forced the game to be suspended. Then the rain started and the field became unplayable.

Citrus Park will have a doubleheader today, squaring off against Yulee at 10 a.m. and Section 1 champion Shalimar at 1 p.m.

Thursday's rain could pose more of a threat than Yulee and Shalimar put together. Rules require a day and a game's rest for any pitcher who throws two or more innings, so any pitchers who throw today will be ineligible Saturday in Naples for the state semifinals.

"This will definitely force us to use a different pitching strategy," Citrus Park manager Mario Mirabal said. "Little League changed the tournament setup from double elimination to pool play, but they didn't change the pitching rules."

Citrus Park will now be looking at four games in three days if it is to reach the state finals Sunday in Naples.

Citrus Park got off to a good start Thursday thanks in large part to Morgan Grove. Grove went 3-for-4, driving in four runs and scoring three more.

Grove got Citrus Park on the scoreboard in the top of the first with an RBI double. Pitcher Richelle Mirabal brought Grove home with a single, then stole second and third. Gina Kafalas capped the scoring in the first, driving in a run with a hard grounder to short.

After a walk and an error allowed Union Park's Aubrie Shelton to score her team's first run in the bottom of the first, Grove laced a ball to the wall in right-center, clearing the bases with a stand-up triple to give Citrus Park a 6-1 lead.

Grove's second triple of the game opened the fourth. Mirabal knocked in another run with a sacrifice fly, sending Grove home for the third time. Lindsey McHenry's bases-loaded walk and Khrystyne Ely's infield single helped Citrus Park add two more runs in a five-run fourth for a 13-2 lead.

Mirabal's control was shaky in the first two innings as she walked three batters, two who came around to score. Her defense came to the rescue in the first as Grove got the second out of the inning at first and Amanda Smith fired home to cut down a runner for an inning-ending double play to keep the score 3-1.

Mirabal found her composure, going four innings before the game was called for the 10-run mercy rule in the fourth. Mirabal surrendered two runs on two hits with three walks and four strikeouts.

Shalimar defeated Yulee 7-1 in the only other game played Thursday.

The top two teams in round-robin play will advance to the state semifinals Saturday at Naples.

Mario Mirabal had intended to throw Grove on Thursday night against Yulee, but with the rain pushing the game back to today, Grove would be unable to pitch Saturday in the semifinals. In her last outing, Grove tossed a 14-strikeout, three-hitter as Citrus Park blanked Safety Harbor 5-0 in the sectional final.