After slogging through five innings in Wednesday's Class 5A region quarterfinal against Pasco, Hernando wanted to make a statement.
"I think we really just wanted to send a message ...not to take us lightly," Leopards pitcher Courtney Riddle said.
Pasco County heard it loud and clear.
Hernando scored eight runs in the bottom of the sixth to break away for a 12-2 victory at Tom Varn Park. The six-inning, mercy-rule win gave the Leopards their first postseason victory since their run to state in 2001.
"It's nice for me," coach Kevin Bittinger said of his first playoff win. "It's great for the kids."
The Leopards (21-7) face a familiar opponent on the road in Tuesday's region semifinal after Gulf's 6-1 win over Tavares. Hernando beat the Buccaneers 9-2 in its spring break tournament, though Gulf didn't start ace Madison Morlan.
"They can play ball," Bittinger said. "That's a very good team."
Hernando proved Wednesday that it is, too. Riddle was unhappy with her command, despite allowing only four singles and two runs. Pasco (17-12) loaded the bases in the fourth but mustered only one run on an error. Hannah Johnson added an RBI single in the sixth.
"We made it up with our bats," Riddle said.
Especially Riddle, the team's only playoff veteran after a stint at Hernando Christian. She reached base in all four plate appearances with two doubles and two RBIs for her third multi-hit game in the past five contests.
Hernando led 4-2 heading into the sixth before breaking the game open with a one-out rally. Erika Lewis knocked a two-run double off the leftfield wall, and UCF commit Megan Lane followed with an RBI triple.
Summer Solovitch blasted a two-run double to deep centerfield before a Pasco error let the final run score.
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Morlan fuels Gulf's fourth straight win
NEW PORT RICHEY - A self-reported FHSAA violation put Gulf in a deep hole early in the season, but chemistry helped the Bucs weather the storm right before the most important part of the campaign.
Gulf reeled off its fourth consecutive victory with a 6-1 win in the Class 5A region quarterfinals over Tavares.
Led by the pitching of ace Morlan, the Bucs (15-13) shut down the Bulldog bats. Morlan, a junior, sported a 1.16 ERA coming into the state playoffs, and didn't disppoint what Gulf coach Rick Hohenthaner described as a "loud and raucous crowd" on hand to watch the team's first home playoff game in school history.
"Madison used the pitching attack that we developed," he said, "and we kept them from getting any kind of rally going."
Morlan finished the complete game, giving up only one run over seven innings. Her run support came in the fourth when the Gulf bats came alive against Tavares starter Koral Smith.
While the team didn't hit a home run for the first time in three games, the Bucs followed consecutive base hits with a two-run double from freshman phenom Brittney Pressler. After Hanna McCarthy's base hit gave Gulf runners at first and third, twin Haley McCarthy doubled in another two runs.
"Our players executed 100 percent of the game plan, we were able to utilize our team speed to pressure them into some mistakes," Hohenthaner said.
The outburst ran Smith out of the game and gave Morlan a 5-0 lead, an advantage she wouldn't relinquish to the Bulldogs (19-8).
Gulf, which was forced to forfeit seven games early in the season, also has been without star third baseman Tarra Rice (broken finger) most of the year. Hohenthaner said if all goes well with the doctor today, Rice could be cleared to play.
"We have had our share of setbacks this season, but the girls finally have their swagger back," Hohenthaner said.
Derek J. LaRiviere, Times correspondent
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7 p.m. Tuesday
5A:Hernando at Gulf