CLERMONT — In one of the wildest Class 5A state softball finals in recent recent memory — full of 10 combined errors and eight walks — a Land O’ Lakes freshman, Mia Fields, found herself in the brightest spotlight.
With the score tied, two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh, Fields fired her 137th pitch — her final pitch.
It was a ball.
The Fort Myers player trotted home and the wild game, which also featured 17 hits and numerous diving defensive gems, was done. Fort Myers had finally won, 7-6, under the lights of Legends Way Ball Fields.
For Land O’ Lakes — which took a 3-0 lead in the top of the first inning, held a 4-3 lead in the fourth and a 6-3 lead in the sixth — it was no less than devastating.
Land O’ Lakes coach Mitch Wilkins had to take a breath and think about it a minute to put it in perspective.
“We had to live with a freshman pitcher and die with a freshman pitcher,” Wilkins said. “(Fields) is going to be a monster in the coming years, and this experience is only going to help her get to the next level.”
At many times Friday, Fields showed her mettle, pitching out of tight jams that started by allowing the leadoff runner to reach base.
“It did get stressful,” Wilkins said. “At one point I said to (the Fort Myers coaching staff) we are both determined to make this interesting (see Fort Myers’ seven errors).”
Then both teams did. Right to the end.
After Land O’ Lakes (24-8, ranked No. 2 in 5A by MaxPreps) scratched out two runs in the top of the sixth inning for its 6-3 lead, Fort Myers (26-1, No. 4 in 5A) promptly answered with two runs in the bottom of the frame to set up the final-inning dramatics.
Fort Myers’ final leadoff batter smacked a ball to Land O’ Lakes junior shortstop Nehanda Lewis, who thew a ball that ticked off the glove of the Gators’ first baseman. The Fort Myers’ hitter raced around all the bases only to get tagged out at the plate.
Junior Emma Nixon led the Gators at the plate, with three of the team’s six RBIs, while she, sophomore Aliana Mercado and senior Gracie Stanley provided seven of Land O’Lakes’ nine hits.
“When that happened I turned to our assistant coaches and said, ‘maybe this is destiny,’” Wilkins said. “But then it wasn’t.”
Wilkins then added more perspective: “They made mistakes, we made mistakes. … Some of our girls might want to blame themselves. But the bottom line is that no one is to blame. This was a team effort. It’s a team loss. … We’ll get better from this. That’s what we’ll do.”
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