Sports has always been measured as a game of inches.
For Nature Coast, its second-round 3-1 loss in the Leopard Slam II Softball Tournament boiled down to a matter of inches, say 32.
Entering the bottom of the seventh inning, Clearwater-Countryside, one of the top four seeds in the 16-team event, was attempting to apply a bow on what appeared to be a 3-0 shutout.
Lady Cougar junior right-hander Alyssa Queen had zig-zagged in and out of trouble through five of her last six innings.
In the seventh, Queen broke the cardinal rule for all pitchers, walking not only the first two batters – but the Lady Sharks’ eighth- and ninth-place batters, Marriah Adams and Tashylla Brockington.
At this point, 10th-year Lady Cougar mentor Kaylyn Bayly had seen enough and opted for sophomore reliever Sam Ramasanto.
The Pinellas County crew received a break when one of Ramasanto’s first pitches flew to the backstop. Unfortunately, neither Lady Shark runner advanced ahead.
With one out and Kathryn Gonzalez up, the ball got away briefly from the catcher Brittany Creamer, enough for the runners to attempt to advance. Instead Creamer whistled a perfect relay to third to erase Adams.
With two outs, Gonzalez reached on an error by second sacker Hailee Keisling.
With two on, Brianna Harvey lifted a ball to second that Keisling muffed in traffic allowing Brockington to score.
On the next pitch, Courtney David, who had two of her team’s six hits, lofted a deep drive to left-center field that came with three feet of becoming a three-run homer before Kelsie Sanchez squeezed it into her mitt.
Had David got underneath just a smidge more – say an inch – it could have been a different ending.
Also, had Nature Coast not made the earlier base-running blunder, David’s ball may have served as game-tying sacrifice fly. Instead it served as the final out in the Lady Cougars’ 12th straight win.
“Our pitchers right now don’t throw real hard. We don’t get many strikeouts so we have to rely on our defense,” explained Coach Bayly. “Normally, we play solid defense, but not today.
“I really don’t know what it was,” she said. “At the plate, we swung at way too many poor pitches; it seemed like we weren’t mentally prepared.”
On her team’s biggest positive, “We eventually got some base hits,” recalled Coach Bayly, whose leading hitter was Alex Householder with two hits. “I know we can play a lot better.”
Nature Coast couldn’t quite make it two upsets in a row.
After earlier in the day defeating Pasco, 8-4, the Lady Sharks hurt their chances stranding a game-high 10 runners on base.
“In games like this you have to have that clutch hit, usually with two outs,” noted Nature Coast head coach Ernie Chatman. “You also can’t make many mistakes against teams that are this good and still win.”
On his evaluation, “We did some good things and we made some plays to stay in the game,” said the Hall of Fame mentor. “Even though we didn’t strike anybody out, we hung around.”
In the first-round win against Pasco, Chloe Gonzalez paced the Lady Sharks’ 10-hit attack with a 3-for-4 effort highlighted by a two-run double.
Harvey, Brockington and Kat Gonzalez each collected two hits.
Kat Gonzalez also earned the mound win scattering seven hits across seven innings, allowing three earned runs and five walks with two strikeouts.
Nature Coast returns to action at 1:30 p.m. Saturday against Mitchell.
Clearwater-Countryside 3, Nature Coast 1
123 456 7 R H E
CSD 000 111 0 – 3 6 3
NCT 000 000 1 – 1 6 4
CSD – Queen, Ramasanto (7) and Creamer.
NCT – K. Gonzalez and Harvey.
W – Queen (9-1). L – K. Gonzalez (5-7).
SV – Ramasanto.
2B – CSD: Sharpe and Householder.
Records – Clearwater-Countryside (2-0 tourney; 17-1 overall), Nature Coast Technical (1-1 tourney; 9-9 overall).