BROOKSVILLE — The stage was fully set for Hernando to claim its third straight district championship.
Up 5-0 heading into the top of the sixth inning with Ali Shenefield, one of the top pitchers in the state, on the the mound gave the Leopards confidence. Except for that fact that the Coyotes were one of the first teams to notch earned runs off of Shenefield early in the season.
Cypress Creek pulled off what was likely the biggest stunner of districts, as the Coyotes overcame a 5-0 deficit to defeat Hernando 7-5 at Tom Varn Park. Cypress Creek in just its second season of varsity play, claims its first district championship. Hernando won both regular-season matchups, 7-5 and 7-0.
“I think we were one of the first teams to actually put earned runs up against (Shenefield),” Cypress Creek coach Michael Peterson said. “Whenever we would play these teams with these really good pitchers, it would always end up being that one bad inning that would take us out of it.”
Early on, Hernando (24-3) established the dominance it has shown all season, with the Leopards chasing Cypress Creek starter Avery Lee, tagged for five runs, from the game. The Coyotes (14-8) brought in freshman Miranda Schwartz for relief and the right-hander kept Hernando’s bats at bay.
Heading into the top of the sixth inning, two walks from Shenefield helped set up the comeback. The Coyotes ended up getting four runs across the plate before Schwartz drove home the tying run by Ashley Nickisher.
Hernando threatened in the bottom half of the inning, but was unable to capitalize with two runners in scoring position. Cypress Creek got to Shenefield again in the top of the seventh, as three costly errors resulted in two runs scored for the Coyotes.
The Leopards made one last comeback gasp in the bottom of the seventh against Schwartz, with the bases loaded and their top batter, Madyson Lamp, at the plate. Schwartz calmly got Lamp to ground out to second base and the game ended with the Coyotes celebrating.
“After I got that first out, I got a little bit more nervous about everything,” Schwartz said. “Once I had Ali at the plate, I know she’s a great hitter and I just needed two more outs to win the game. I just calmed down and was able to get the outs. I’m just really happy for the seniors that we could win this district championship.”