BROOKSVILLE — Coming into the Class 5A region semifinals Tuesday night, the starting pitchers each had sub-1.00 earned-run averages. It wasn’t exactly the formula for a slugfest, but that’s what the crowd on hand saw.
Hernando, qualifying for a second straight region final, overcame six errors to beat River Ridge 6-5 at Tom Varn Park.
“We were trying to make plays before we really had the ball,” Hernando shortstop Tana McDaniel said. “We kind of let the nerves get to us.”
The Royal Knights (26-4) struck immediately, with Morgan Tolle smacking a two-run inside-the-park homer. The 2-0 lead didn’t last long as Hernando (27-2) tied in the bottom half. With Danielle Harvey on third, Courtney Riddle brought her in on a squeeze play. McDaniel then scored on a double steal when Nikki Patrick took second and McDaniel stole home.
By the fifth, River Ridge held a 5-4 lead. Knights ace Makenzie Goluba (complete game, nine strikeouts, three walks, two hit batters) struggled with control, and Riddle (complete game, four strikeouts, no walks) was hindered by defensive miscues.
After Danielle Harvey led the bottom of the fifth off with a walk, the Leopards made consecutive outs to bring up Summer Solovitch.
The second baseman laced a single over first, scoring the tying run. But when she tried to stretch it to a double, was gunned down at second.
Riddle got through the top of the sixth. Sierra Cannon laced a single to lead off the inning, but once again, the next two batters went down in order. Erika Lewis came up and drilled a ball to shortstop Kenzi Maguire. With Cannon running in front of her, she made an errant throw, allowing Cannon to come around with the go-ahead run.
Only three outs away from advancing, the Leopards found out River Ridge was not done either. A single and two errors by McDaniel — her third and fourth of the game — loaded the bases.
“I really just tried to pick myself up,” she said. “This was the most exciting game we played all year.”
Bittinger brought in the infield in hopes of stopping the tying run from scoring. Back-to-back ground balls to McDaniel at short were thrown home to maintain the one-run lead. The game ended on a ground out by Brook Schwaner to second.
Tuesday’s game was the last for River Ridge coach Ernie Beck, who is retiring at the end of the school year. He finishes with a 429-136 record after 19 seasons.