BROOKSVILLE - Based on Friday night's proceedings during the 23rd lifetime meeting with archrival Nature Coast Technical, the Hernando High softball team may drop its nickname from Lady Leopards to Copy Cats.
The hosts borrowed the script utilized by the Class 5A, District 7-leading baseball team guided by Tim Sims.
HHS received gutsy pitching from senior Courtney Riddle, a pair of clutch extra-base hits by Sierra Cannon and Kaylee Frascatore in the sixth inning, and a flawless defensive effort - converting 35-of-35 chances - to even the season series against the Lady Sharks at Tom Varn Park, 5-2.
Senior Night was one to remember for the host's five seniors: Riddle, Tana McDaniel, Summer Solovitch, Taylor Milligan and Nikki Patrick - who all started for ninth-year mentor Kevin Bittinger.
Behind the Lady Leopards' school-record tying 13th straight win, matching a mark originally set in 2000 under skipper Ernie Chatman, the Purple and Gold climbed to a county-best 20-1.
By improving to 15-8 lifetime against the Lady Sharks (19-3 overall, 11-1 5A-7, 7-1 county), HHS (11-1 5A-7, 7-1 county) earned a share of the Hernando County championship with NCT.
The county crown serves as team's third straight and Bittinger's fifth.
More importantly after the last out, representatives from four schools, Hernando, NCT, Central and Pasco, witnessed two coin flips to unlock a pair of ties for the upcoming April 15-17 5A-7 Tourney.
NCT's second year mentor Chatman called tails, but the coin indicated heads giving Hernando the top seed in the single-elimination, seven-team event.
CHS lost the other coin flip, giving Pasco the fourth seed while the Lady Bears slipped to fifth.
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"This was a big win for many reasons. Nature Coast is a good team," said Bittinger, who reached the 20-win plateau for the third time. "I think early on we were trying to do more than we're capable. As the game went on we had a better approach at the plate. The key was patience."
The Lady Leopard skipper praised the late-inning heroics of two underclassmen: Cannon and Frascatore.
"Both of those were big, clutch hits," said Bittinger. "Cannon's shot gave us the lead but Frascatore's hit gave us some much-needed breathing space. A three-run lead is always better than a one-run lead."
On Riddle's 17th complete game, where she walked two, hurled a wild pitch and fanned six while scattering seven hits, "Some people will say Courtney struggled tonight," explained Bittinger. "She did get behind some batters. But the beauty of her game is she comes to work every night and she doesn't take innings off.
"The greatest compliment I know is she knows what her job is and just goes out there and does it."
The Lady Leopards' fine glove work was exemplified in the fifth inning. With one out and NCT sophomore Brittany Rodriguez aboard on a single, frosh Cerina Brooks lined a shot toward left field that third sacker Danielle Harvey speared in the air.
Alertly, Harvey whistled a relay throw to first sacker Darrian Hunter, who did a split in collecting the throw for a bang-bang double play - the game's only twin-killing.
"Harvey made a great play on the double play," recalled Bittinger. "A lot of time, players will rush that relay and overthrow it. She let the play come to her."
On earning the 5A-7's top seeding, "All it means is we don't have to play three games in three nights," explained Bittinger. "We'll get a first-round bye instead. It doesn't mean we can relax by any means. Anything can happen in districts; we still have to come in prepared to play."
NCT sophomore Chyloe Gonzalez collected a game-high two off Riddle (20-1). The Lady Sharks game-high three errors, however, didn't sit well with Chatman.
"We had some defensive lapses that we've been normally making plays on," he said. "Offensively, I thought we put the ball in play, but the deciding factor was we didn't make the plays to take advantage of some situations."
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The hosts jumped out to an early lead in the first frame against NCT frosh right-hander Abbey Primavera (10-3).
Junior catcher Megan Lane, who arrived hitting .630, laced a single to left.
As Lane immediately stole second base, catcher Chloe Gonzalez's errant throw skipped into center field for an error.
With one out and the nimble Lane at third, the fleet-footed McDaniel dropped down a bunt just in front of Primavera. But her relay to the plate was too late to nail Lane.
With two outs in the second, NCT tied matters as Brooks singled and Celine Kordon walked before Marriah Adams punched a clutch RBI single to right field. Adams entered the game hitting .143.
With two outs in the third, Chyloe Gonzalez launched a shot to right-center that was stopped only by the wall for a triple.
On the next pitch, junior Courtney David cracked an RBI single up the middle, 2-1 Lady Sharks.
It remained that way until Harvey coaxed a leadoff walk to open a four-run sixth-inning rally.
With one out, Riddle hit a grounder to freshman second sacker Alyssa Gonzalez. Instead of a possible double-play ball or at least forcing the lead runner, Riddle reached on a miscue.
Bittinger quickly inserted the speedy Josey Sims as a courtesy runner for Riddle.
Solovitch smacked a single to left to load the sacks.
After a quick powwow on the mound, Cannon, who came in hitting .443, crushed a shot to center field that barely grazed Kathryn Gonzalez's glove for a two-run double.
With two outs, Frascatore, who came in hitting .192, cranked a two-run triple to right-center.
"Sierra and Kaylee definitely came through when the rest of us were struggling," said Riddle, who turned 18 on Thursday. "It's a great night, especially to beat Nature Coast. Winning on Senior Night is big."
"On my last at-bat, Nature Coast had called time," recalled the 17-year-old Cannon. "Coach had asked me what I had seen on her first-pitch strikes. I normally lay off first-pitch strikes, but I figured I might as well look for one.
"When I hit it, it felt good," said Cannon. "It was great when I saw the ball go over the center fielder's head."
On Frascatore's follow-up hit, "Kaylee's hit was exciting, too," added Cannon. "Tonight was the kind of night when one person went down, someone else picked her up."
On the win's significance, "This was huge for the seniors. I know I didn't want to see their faces if it went the other way," said Cannon. "Losing tonight wasn't an option. We definitely wanted revenge after losing to them the last time (5-4 at NCT)."
In turn, Frascatore gave props to Canon.
"Sierra's hit got us back on track," recalled the 15-year-old Frascatore. "In my last at-bat, I felt like I had to do something. This might have been my biggest hit so far against a strong team."
Hernando 5, Nature Coast Technical 2
123 456 7 R H E
NCT 011 000 0 - 2 7 3
HER 100 004 x - 5 6 0
NCT - Primavera and C. Gonzalez.
HER - Riddle and Lane.
W - Riddle (20-1). L -Primavera (10-3).
2B - NCT: C. Gonzalez; HER: Cannon.
3B - NCT: C. Gonzalez; HER: Frascatore.
Records - Nature Coast Technical (19-3 overall, 11-1 5A-7, 7-1 county), Hernando (20-1 overall, 11-1 5A-7, 7-1 county).
Past Hernando County Fast-Pitch
Softball Champions (2000-14)
- Compiled by TONY CASTRO
YR SCHOOL W L .PCT HEAD COACH
2000 Brooksville-Hernando 3 1 .750 Ernie Chatman
2001 Brooksville-Hernando 3 1 .750 Ernie Chatman
2001 Brooksville-Central 3 1 .750 Benny Martinez
2002 Brooksville-Central 3 1 .750 Benny Martinez
2003 Spring Hill-Springstead 4 0 1.000 Craig Swartout
2004 Brooksville-Hernando 3 1 .750 Doug Rogers
2005 Brooksville-Hernando 5 1 .833 Doug Rogers
2006 Brooksville-Hernando 6 0 1.000 Kevin Bittinger
2007 Brooksville-Hernando 6 0 1.000 Kevin Bittinger
2008 Brooksville-NCT 6 0 1.000 Mettina Maggiore
2009 Brooksville-NCT 5 0 1.000 Mettina Couet
2010 Spring Hill-Springstead 4 0 1.000 Craig Swartout
2011 Spring Hill-Springstead 5 1 .833 Craig Swartout
2012 Brooksville-Hernando 6 0 1.000 Kevin Bittinger
2013 Brooksville-Hernando 6 0 1.000 Kevin Bittinger
2014 Brooksville-Hernando 7 1 .875 Kevin Bittinger
2014 Brooksville-NCT 7 1 .875 Ernie Chatman