CLERMONT — Hernando lost its Class 4A state title game 5-0 to Eustis on Friday afternoon. Sure, the loss hurt, but the Leopards were not devastated because they had perspective.
The Leopards program reached the highest level for the first time. And they started only one senior, four juniors, three sophomores and two freshmen.
In other words, there is plenty of hope for the future.
“We took a step closer today,” Hernando coach Kevin Bittinger said. “It was tough against a great pitcher (sophomore Libby Levendoski), but we have nothing to be ashamed of. Levendoski is tough.”
For the record, Levendoski, ranked among the nation’s top pitching prospects, struck out 17 Leopards and walked none on 104 pitches, 74 for strikes at Legends Way Ball Fields.
Hernando (26-5) reached second base only twice, both times by junior shortstop Solaris Genberg, who collected one of the Leopards’ two hits.
“The preseason polls didn’t have us ranked in the top 10 in the state,” Bittinger said. “We were, ‘the other teams.’ We showed them. We were the state runnerup.’” Hernando did move up as the season went on, ranked No. 2 in 4A by MaxPreps going into Friday’s final, behind Eustis (27-1).
In the end, Hernando’s senior leader, Olivia Townsend, stepped up big, throwing the final four innings, allowing no runs on three hits.
“(Townsend) will be missed, so much, but she has set the tone for everyone else to follow,” Bittinger said. “We will be back. We will.”
Legends Way Ball Fields, Clermont
Class 6A: Doral Academy 5, Mitchell 2
Class 5A: Fort Myers 7, Land O’ Lakes 6
Class 4A: Eustis 5, Hernando 0