TAMPA — Freedom had been down this road before.
A season ago, the Patriots defeated Steinbrenner in both regular-season matchups but lost to the Warriors in the all-important district semifinal.
On Wednesday, Freedom faced the exact same scenario, needing a victory over Steinbrenner to advance to the district final after having shut out the Warriors in two previous meetings this season.
This year, Freedom was up for the challenge.
The Patriots fell behind 1-0 in the fifth inning but quickly answered, plating two in the bottom half of the inning to squeak by Steinbrenner 2-1 and qualify for regionals for the first time.
“It’s hard to beat a good team three times,” Freedom coach Autum Hernandez said. “We knew coming in it was going to be close.”
Steinbrenner (13-12) scored its first run against Freedom (18-2) this season when Paige Cimino, the ninth batter in the Warriors’ lineup, stroked a two-out RBI single in the fifth.
The Warriors, though, couldn’t make the run hold. Two straight errors on throws to first base plated Freedom’s Ashley Wilson with the tying run, and Maddy Hall followed with the winning single to score Rachel Carlson.
“I got a hold of it and found a hole,” Hall said.
Hall’s sister, Katlin, came on to pitch in relief of Grace Street, who threw five strong innings, and held Steinbrenner at bay over the final two innings, striking out the Warriors’ last two batters after the leadoff batter singled to start the seventh.
“I feel great right now,” Katlin Hall said. “I’m on cloud nine. It’s awesome.”
Similarly, Chamberlain had the past on its mind in the early 7A-9 semifinal against Gaither.
Four weeks ago, the Cowboys held the heavily-favored Chiefs in check before succumbing 2-0 to Chamberlain.
With a postseason spot on the line, Chamberlain (19-7) was determined to avoid another narrow escape. Chiefs pitcher Rachel Dwyer made sure of it.
Dwyer kept Gaither (8-14) off the scoreboard most of the game, save for a meaningless run in the fifth inning. The Chiefs’ bats, meanwhile, did their part, exploding for six runs in the bottom of the fifth to mercy rule the Cowboys 11-1 and advance to their 15th district final in the past 16 seasons.
“This was a big win for us to really get our bats going offensively and set the tone for the rest of the postseason,” Dwyer said. “We scored almost every inning and took advantage of our opportunities.”