Sometimes the smallest of plays loom large.
Such was the case in Saturday night’s fourth-round clash between Gulf and Hernando for third place in the Leopard Slam II Softball Tournament at Tom Varn Park.
Down 2-1, the Lady Leopards went to their small-ball package which ignited a six-run sixth-inning rally to defuse the Lady Buccaneers, 9-2.
Both teams had opportunities to play for the tallest trophy in Saturday’s earlier semifinals.
Gulf fell to Countryside, 4-1, while Hernando dropped a nail-biter to loaded River Ridge, 1-0.
Against Gulf (2-2 tourney; 15-5 overall), Hernando (3-1 tourney; 15-3 overall) broke out on top in the first frame.
Sophomore catcher Megan Lane tripled off Britney Pressler to lead off the game and scored two batters later on junior Tana McDaniel’s RBI fly out.
The New Port Richey crew tied matters in the third.
Leadoff batter Marissa Bowers coaxed a free pass off Lady Leopard right-hander Courtney Riddle.
Bowers scampered to second on a passed ball and scored with one out on Pressler’s RBI double to right-center, 1-1.
The Lady Bucs went ahead in the fourth when Nikki Sedivy launched a 3-2 Riddle offering over the right-center field fence, 2-1. It helped that Sedivy was a former travel ball teammate.
After allowing a subsequent single to Madison Morlan, Riddle took over retiring the next nine Lady Bucs in a row.
After Haley McCarthy coaxed a leadoff walk in the seventh, Riddle enticed Alyssa Mulroy to ground the ball to second baseman Summer Solovitch. For the second time in two games, Solovitch made a huge heads-up play tagging the runner in front of her and then flipping to first sacker Darrien Hunter for a pitcher’s best friend – a double play.
On Gulf’s final out, Bowers soft liner was snared by McDaniel at shortstop.
In all, the Purple and Gold defense converted 30-of-30 chances behind Riddle.
Riddle (15-3) did her part scattering two walks, four hits and two runs (both earned) while striking out a game-high seven.
With Pressler pressing, she walked McDaniel to load the sacks with one out.
At this point, Gulf skipper Rick Hohenthaner circled the wagons with a timeout.
Pressler’s first offering to the red-hot Riddle was smoked into right-center plating three runs, 4-2.
Solovitch followed with a looping single to right which pushed courtesy runner Brianna Brady to third.
With two outs, Danielle Harvey looped a two-run single to right plating Brady and Solovitch.
Bre Mobley singled and on a subsequent error, Harvey scampered home.
In the seventh, Hernando added a pair of insurance runs.
Riddle’s RBI single plated Sims before Solovitch’s third hit – an RBI double pushed home McDaniel.
From the home dugout, “I didn’t like giving up any homers,” explained the 16-year-old Riddle, “Both of the ones I’ve allowed were to old teammates.”
On the significance of the win, “It was nice to come back after losing the way we did to River Ridge,” remarked Riddle, who finished 2-for-4. “Overall, I thought we played well.”
On Solovitch’s 3-for-4 effort, “I’ve been up and down all year,” pointed out the Leopard junior. “Right now, I’m on the upswing.”
“When we were down 2-1, there was some doubt in my mind,” declared the 15-year-old Lane, who finished 3-for-4. “Early on I thought we weren’t pumped up enough to play until we batted around.
“I don’t like getting third,” noted Lane. “Last year, we finished second and we’re a much better team this year.”
Initially, Hernando head coach Kevin Bittinger praised Pressler for keeping his team off-balance.
“Their pitcher did a good job of keeping us off-balance for a while,” said Bittinger. “The key to the comeback were the two stellar bunts by Lane and Sims. Once we got in sync, they couldn’t stop us.”
On Riddle’s base-clearing hit, he added, “If Courtney doesn’t deliver in that spot, I’m not sure what happens, but she’s hit this way all year.”
On receiving the third-place trophy, “I’m not really OK with it,” said Bittinger. “I love the focus this team is showing. It’s something my previous teams never really showed.”
The Royal Knights were limited to six hits by Riddle, who walked one and fanned five.
Riddle’s lone mistake – a 3-1 offering to senior Morgan Tolle – left the yard for a home run with two outs in the fourth.
Tolle was a one-woman wrecking crew.
With one out in the fourth, it was Tolle at second base that scooped up Riddle’s grounder and fired a laser back to catcher Jada Power to tag out Sims and deny a run.
Right-hander Makenzi Goluba was hurling a no-hitter at Hernando though six innings.
To open the seventh, McDaniel crushed a 2-1 pitch to the base of the right-field fence.
Here, Brittany Forrise’s relay back to Tolle overshot the mark.
Fortunately, shortstop Kenzi Maguire was backing up the play. She collected the relay throw and fired to third. In a bang-bang play, Melissa Moore applied the tag on McDaniel for the first out.
Goluba forced the next two Lady Leopard batters to ground out to end the tense proceedings.
“On the play at the plate, I knew I had to get rid of the ball fast. I know Sims, she can run,” explained the 16-year-old Tolle.
On her homer, “I was just looking for a hit,” said Tolle. “Especially after I struck out the first time.”
On the importance of the win, “We wanted to make it to the championship and win it,” stressed Tolle.
Goluba, 16, described Tolle’s game as, “She was on fire. She made plays all game long – like they were made for ESPN. I don’t know what defensive play was better: the throw to the plate or the relay to get the Hernando runner at third.”
On the lost no-no, “Today was a team win and huge one,” said Goluba. “We knew they were a great team. It’s tough losing a no-no, but I’ll take the team win every time.”
“This one (loss) was on me,” declared a demoralized Coach Bittinger immediately after the game. “We failed to execute on three plays – that was the game.
“On the play at the plate I told Ashley (Sims) to go on contact and that’s exactly what she did. Great players make great plays,” defended Bittinger of the Royal Knights converting 39-of-40 chances.
“On the play at third, that was my call,” he said. “We have to run the bases aggressively all season; it’s something the kids have found to be successful. They beat us with two great throws. You tip your cap.
“This was a great playoff atmosphere with plenty of intensity,” noted Bittinger. “I am disappointed with the loss; not on how we played.”
On Saturday, Nature Coast and Central went a combined 4-0 in the 16-team event to place fifth and ninth respectively.
Nature Coast topped Mitchell, 4-1, in the third round before blasting Lecanto in the nightcap, 11-4.
Against the Mustangs, sophomore Courtney David led the Lady Sharks with a fine 2-for-3 effort featuring four runs batted in.
David, who entered the tourney hitting .380, knocked in one run with a sacrifice fly followed by a clutch two-run single in the seventh inning to seal the proceedings.
Senior Dana Mackiewicz, the team’s leadoff batter, did her job scoring a game-high three runs.
Kathryn Gonzalez hurled a complete-game victory scattering six hits and one earned run behind two strikeouts and one walk.
Of the Lady Sharks’ three outstanding plays in the outfield, left fielder Brittany Rodriguez’ efforts stood out.
With one out in the seventh and Mitchell threatening, Rodriguez made a huge diving catch, and doubled up a runner at second to end the game.
Against Lecanto, Nature Coast pounded out a season-high 18 hits to climb to 11-9 overall.
Mackiewicz paced the Lady Sharks with four hits while Chloe Gonzalez chipped in three safeties.
What pleased veteran skipper Ernie Chatman the most was his team’s improving defense. For the first time all season, Nature Coast went error-free for the second straight game.
“I think the girls are happy with their performance and so am I,” said Chatman. “All in all it was a really outstanding tournament. Kevin (Bittinger) and his boosters deserve a lot of credit for putting on a really good showing.”
In analyzing the proceedings, “We did a lot of good things,” said Chatman. “I thought we hit the ball as well as we have all year. Maybe more than anything else, we got momentum rolling back on our side.
“After being off for five days, we got three wins in two days and now we’re feeling pretty good about it.
After receiving a forfeit nod over no-show St. Petersburg Catholic on Friday, Central (14-5) returned to action with a pair of wins on Saturday over Pasco, 4-1, and Fivay, 9-1.
Against Pasco, freshman southpaw Kaeleen Koehler permitted one earned run in seven solid innings of work.
Hannah Charlwood and Katie McCarthy had key RBI singles while catcher Alex Eisenhauer chipped in two hits.
In the nightcap, McCarthy belted a two-run homer.
“We beat a team (Fivay) that could be in our district next year,” summed up Lady Bears’ mentor Tyson Ellis. “And I’m really proud of the way our girls bounced back from that tough defeat (against Gulf).
“Coming into the tournament, I was curious to see what we had and how they would respond in this environment and I thought we measured up real well,” added the sixth-year Central skipper.
“What I liked most was how the girls showed some mental toughness after dropping that first game against Gulf.”
River Ridge 1, Hernando 0
123 456 7 R H E
RR 000 100 0 –1 5 1
HER 000 000 0 – 0 1 0
RR – Goluba and Power.
HER – Riddle and Lane.
W – Goluba (15-1). L – Riddle (14-3).
2B – HER: McDaniel.
HR – RR: Tolle.
Records – River Ridge (3-0 tourney; 20-1 overall), Hernando (2-1 tourney; 14-3 overall).
Hernando 9, Gulf 2
123 456 7 R H E
HER 100 006 2 – 9 12 0
GF 001 100 0 – 2 4 3
GF – Pressler, Morlan (7) and Sedivy.
HER – Riddle and Lane.
W – Riddle (15-3). L – Pressler (n/a).
2B – GF: Pressler; HER: Riddle, Solovitch.
3B – HER: Lane.
HR – GF: Sedivy.
Records – Gulf (2-2 tourney; 15-5 overall), Hernando (3-1 tourney; 15-3 overall).
Final Leopard Slam II Team Standings
- Compiled by TONY CASTRO
PL. TEAM CLASS W L .PCT RS RA
1. River Ridge 6A-10 4 0 1.000 29 03
2. Countryside 7A-10 3 1 .750 24 08
3. Hernando 5A-7 3 1 .750 34 05
4. Gulf 5A-8 2 2 .500 08 16
5. Nature Coast 5A-7 3 1 .750 24 12
6. Lecanto 6A-6 2 2 .500 25 21
7. Mitchell 6A-10 2 2 .500 09 10
8. Chaminade Madonna 4A-13 1 3 .250 16 39
9. Central 6A-6 3 1 .750 13 03
10. Fivay 5A-8 2 2 .500 22 21
11. Pasco 5A-8 2 2 .500 26 16
12. Citrus 6A-6 1 3 .250 07 20
13. Anclote 5A-8 2 2 .500 38 09
14. Poinciana 7A-5 1 3 .750 00 50
15. Weeki Wachee IND. 1 3 .750 07 49
16. St. Pete Catholic 3A-9 0 4 .000 00 00
TOTALS 32 32 .500
Leopard Slam II Results
Hernando 8, Anclote 2
Chaminade Madonna 12, Citrus 2 (5˝ Innings)
River Ridge 17, Weeki Wachee 0 (3 Inns.)
Lecanto 5, Fivay 3
Countryside 15, Poinciana 0
NCT 8, Pasco 4
Mitchell won by forfeit over St. Pete Catholic (no show)
Gulf 1, Central 0 (6.2 Inns.)
Hernando 17, Chaminade Madonna 0 (4 Inns.)
River Ridge 5, Lecanto 1
Countryside 3, NCT 1
Citrus 1, Anclote 0
Fivay 16, Weeki Wachee 7
Pasco 15, Poinciana 0
Central won by forfeit over St. Pete Catholic (no show)
Gulf 4, Mitchell 3
River Ridge 1, Hernando 0
Countryside 4, Gulf 1
Anclote 16, Weeki Wachee 0 (3 Inns.)
Fivay 2, Citrus 0
Central 4, Pasco 1
Lecanto 15, Chaminade Madonna 2 (5 Inns.)
NCT 4, Mitchell 1
Poinciana won by forfeit over St. Pete Catholic (no show)
Weeki Wachee won by forfeit over St. Pete Catholic (no show)
Anclote 20, Poinciana 0 (3 Inns.)
Pasco 6, Citrus 4
Central 9, Fivay 1
Mitchell 5, Chaminade Madonna 2
NCT 11, Lecanto 4
Hernando 9, Gulf 2
River Ridge 6, Countryside 2