It was all there for Palm Harbor University, everything it wanted. A chance to unseat defending Class 8A state champion Durant and exact revenge for a loss in last year's region semifinals.
The Hurricanes were clinging to a one-run lead in the seventh inning. Logyn Lilley was on the mound for the Hurricanes, facing Shannon Bell with two out and runners at first and second.
Bell had gone 3-for-3 but she was jammed by an inside pitch and hit a pop-up PHU third baseman Moriah Connolly fielded to preserve a 1-0 victory.
"Facing that last batter, I just had to clear my head and pitch in the moment," Lilley said. "We knew the hitter was a good one. We just tried to work the ball inside and get either a pop-up or groundout. It happened to work in our favor."
The game was expected to be a tight one and high-scoring, with each team averaging at least six runs per game. Instead, they combined for eight hits (four each) and managed to get runners in scoring position just four times.
That had a lot with pitching performance from starters Paige Davis of Durant and Rachel Taylor of PHU. Davis worked the outside corner while Taylor threw inside. Taylor managed to have get groundouts or flyouts to the left side of the field 14 times.
"(PHU's) pitcher threw a great game," Cougars coach Matt Carter said. "We didn't do a good job of making adjustments."
In the sixth inning, the Hurricanes (25-4) generated some offense with Torey Scott getting a single and Lilley reaching on an error. Jess Adams followed with a single that brought home Scott for the winning run.
Last year, Durant made a habit of pulling out games with miraculous comebacks, including an extra-inning rally to knock off PHU. In the top of the seventh inning Tuesday it appeared the Cougars were at it again, getting the first two runners on base. Lilley relieved Taylor at that point and retired the next three batters, including Bell for the final out.
"This is what the girls had talked about all offseason, about getting another chance to play Durant," Hurricanes coach Kerry Katchuk said. "This time, they got the outcome they wanted."
Class 7A: Host Lake Region had the pitching and the bats popping in this one. The Thunder struck fast and often on its way to an 8-0 Class 7A region semifinal win over Plant City, advancing to the region finals for the first time in 13 years.
Junior Haley Wiseman scattered five hits while striking out six, including the last hitter with a runner on third to end the game and preserve the shutout. Noelle Dietrich went the distance for Plant City (17-9), giving up eight runs on eight hits and two walks while striking out eight.
Class 6A: Strawberry Crest (24-3) stranded 14 runners - and had a shot to tie with two outs in the seventh - but fell 5-1 on the road at Lakewood Ranch. The big inning for the Mustangs (19-9-1) was the fifth, when they scored four unearned runs with two outs.
Class 4A: A year ago, Mulberry's season ended in the region playoffs with a shutout loss to Academy of Holy Names. Tuesday, Mulberry's hitters made sure there wouldn't be a repeat. The Panthers (18-9) pounded out 15 hits to win 12-6.
"Revenge. I love it," said Mulberry's Erica Morrissey who went 4-for-4 with three RBIs, then pitched the sixth and retired the final six Jaguar batters.
Brittany Bramwell led AHN (21-4) at the plate, going 2-for-4 with a double and three RBIs.
Postponed: Rain washed out two semifinals. Freedom was leading defending state champion Chamberlain 2-0 after one inning in their 7A regional. The game will resume today at 4. Blake, meanwhile, was leading Bradenton Bayshore 3-1 in the bottom of the first in a 5A semifinal. No makeup time or date was available at press time.
Information from the Herald and Ledger was used in this report.