On a hot afternoon, a cold reality hit Hernando Christian Academy.
With pitcher and cleanup hitter Ashley McKay regulated to the role of assistant coach thanks to a torn anterior cruciate ligament, the Lady Lions simply couldn’t hold up.
They were hosting Seven Rivers Christian in a Class 2A, District 4 Tournament semifinal, a team they had defeated twice in the regular season.
But that was with McKay dealing on the mound, and striking out a combined 25 batters across those two victories.
Minus the hard-throwing senior, HCA’s youthful defense struggled at times, committing six errors en route to a 9-1 defeat to the Lady Warriors.
“Probably the biggest difference in the game was our errors, and when we did hit the ball hard they made a great play and other times we’d hit it right to their defense,” HCA head coach Mike Drummond said. “We just couldn’t get that key hit.
“Hats off to (Seven Rivers) Coach (Gary) Dreyer. I know they’ve been wanting this for a long time. They’ve been working really hard, getting better and obviously they showed they’re the better team today.”
With the win, the third-seeded Lady Warriors (11-8) will take on top seed and defending district champ Academy at the Lakes in Thursday’s final at HCA at 4:30 p.m.
Regardless of that outcome, Seven Rivers will still advance to regionals for the first time since 2010.
“I’m proud of the girls,” Coach Dreyer said. “They played real hard, played well. This is what we’ve played for all season. We’re glad we get the opportunity to play for a championship.”
Conversely, HCA (13-6) ended a county-record eight year run of participating in regionals. The Lady Lions had moved on every season since they began FHSAA district play in 2004.
“All good things have to come to an end,” Drummond said. “Sooner or later you have those days where you realize you’re mortal. It’s tough. We overcame a lot.”
New pitcher Chelsea Lowe had actually wiggled out of jams in the first two innings, stranding a runner at third with one out in the first.
The next inning, the Lady Warriors loaded the bases with none out, but a force at home and a liner to first preceded catcher Madison Frazier recovering a wild pitch and throwing to Lowe at the plate.
Though it appeared runner Rebecca Wright slid in under the tag, she was called out to end the threat.
Seven Rivers finally broke through in the third, scoring directly on three separate errors and a single by Kim Iwaniec to take a 4-0 advantage.
Iwaniec had another RBI single in a five-run sixth, and Lady Warrior hurler Tessa Kacer helped her own cause with a two-run triple to break things open.
Rebecca and Gabby Wright added a sacrifice fly and run-scoring single in that frame respectively.
Meanwhile Kacer kept HCA’s bat quiet until senior Holly Field’s booming triple to the right-center field gap in the sixth. Field scored on an ensuing groundout by Lowe.
The Lady Warriors also stole 13 bases, putting further pressure on the Lady Lion defenders.
“When they get on base, they run the bases very well,” Dreyer said of his players. “The defense played well, the pitching was awesome. And we just wanted to put all three aspects together. We hit the ball OK, but the whole thing is let the other team field it and see what happens.”
All but one player in the Seven Rivers lineup reached base at least once, although only Iwaniec recorded multiple hits. Nikki Klukowski went 2-for-3 for HCA.
Drummond admitted McKay’s injury created a sizable void in multiple areas and left the Lady Lions to ponder what might have been, yet he mostly preferred to look forward.
“We’re not going to stand on our heels,” Drummond said. “We want to get back in the state playoffs (next season). We’ve think we’ve got the players to do it.”
Seven Rivers Christian 9, HCA 1