BROOKSVILLE - To no one's surprise, Class 5A, District 7's fast-pitch softball final at 6 p.m. Thursday will pit the county's top two teams as well the tourney's top two seeds.
After Nature Coast Technical crushed 16 hits in thumping Wesley Chapel in three innings Tuesday night at Tom Varn Park, 16-1, the second-seeded Lady Sharks whacked a game-high 12 hits Wednesday night to oust third-seeded Zephyrhills, 7-1.
NCT (22-3) frosh right-hander Abbey Primavera (11-3) chained the Lady Bulldog (13-12) bats that had etched 13 hits the night before against Weeki Wachee.
Primavera, who hurled a shutout until the seventh inning, permitted four Zephyrhills hits and one walk against four strikeouts.
ZHS freshman Alexis Christopher paced the East Pasco County club going 2-for-3, including a triple.
ZHS spoiled Primavera's third shutout bid of the season as frosh Tiayanna Leddick tripled with one out in the seventh before Selena Tinajero's grounded into a fielder's choice.
The Brooksville-based nine swept the third meeting against the Lady Bulldogs by collecting a dozen hits off Tinajero (4-2) and Cassidee McCullough - including two each by sophomore Brittney Rodriguez and juniors Brianna Harvey and Kathryn Gonzalez.
In the first inning, junior Courtney David's fielder's choice plated Kathryn Gonzalez before Rodriguez's RBI single knocked in Chyloe Gonzalez, 2-0.
A dropped fly ball in the second inning permitted frosh Cerina Brooks to score.
Freshman Celine Kordon's RBI single in the fourth plated Rodriguez.
An inning later, Harvey tripled home Kathryn Gonzalez before Harvey scored on a sacrifice fly by Chyloe Gonzalez.
Freshman Alyssa Gonzalez came off the bench in the sixth inning with a pinch-hit single. Back-to-back singles by Abby Marshall and Harvey set the table for Chyloe Gonzalez's second sac fly, 7-0.
"It was a pretty big game," said the 16-year-old Harvey, who entered the tilt hitting .415. "I thought we were hitting the ball pretty good. Defensively, I don't remember us making an error."
On the prospects of facing Hernando, "We all have to stay focused and hit the ball," insisted Harvey. "We've got to come out as strong as we did in the first meeting against them (a 5-4 win at NCT)."
From the visitors' dugout, 1985 Gulf Coast Athletic Conference Baseball Player of the Year Jeff Hupp knows a little something about hitting.
"If you don't hit, you don't score, and we didn't hit," lamented the first year Lady Bulldogs skipper. "Even when we got a hit, no one was on or we'd hit it right at someone."
On the keys of the game, "We gave them way too many runs," added Hupp. "I don't have any regrets. This is a young group - we started five freshmen tonight. We should be ready to play next year."
With the win, the Lady Sharks advanced to their second district championship - and first since 2009 - against top-seeded Hernando.
In Wednesday's 5A-7 semifinal nightcap, Hernando ousted fifth-seeded Central, 4-1.
The Lady Leopards' (24-2) eighth straight series victory improved ninth-year HHS skipper Kevin Bittinger to 19-1 lifetime against CHS (6-20).
It marked the first time the two teams had faced each other in a playoff game since April 26, 2000's 2-1 nod by HHS.
In the process, HHS senior right-hander Courtney Riddle (24-1) broke the single-season school record for wins held by Chrissy Hartley in 2001 with a masterful two-hitter, featuring 14 strikeouts against one walk.
HHS broke out on top with three runs in the bottom of the third off Lady Bear southpaw Kaeleen Koehler.
Koehler (6-18) visited the hospital after Tuesday's game against Pasco, after getting struck three times. The hospital X-rays were negative for any breaks, but detected bruising.
HHS snapped a scoreless deadlock with three runs in the bottom of the third.
With the sacks jammed, senior shortstop Tana McDaniel beat out a bobbled grounder for an infield hit, allowing Erika Lewis to score.
With two outs, senior second sacker Summer Solovitch lined a two-run single to right-center to plate Danielle Harvey and McDaniel, 3-0.
The hosts missed a golden opportunity to tack on when McDaniel fanned with the bases loaded in the fourth.
CHS spoiled Riddle's shutout bid in the sixth. Aaliyah Roberts was hit by a pitch, stole second base and raced home on Koehler's subsequent seeing-eye safety that hit atop the first-base bag for an RBI single.
In the bottom of the sixth, HHS junior catcher Megan Lane walked, stole second and third, and easily scored when Lady Bear catcher Alex Eisenhauer's relay to third base sailed into left field because no one was covering the bag, 4-1.
"Lefty (Koehler) came up with a gutsy performance tonight," said CHS' seventh-year mentor Tyson Ellis, who tumbled to 1-15 versus his alma mater Hernando. "She threw very well and kept us in the game the whole night. They didn't hit ball hard until the fourth inning."
In the Lady Bears' biggest positive, "Lefty proved that she's really maturing. We couldn't have asked for anything better than what she gave us," declared Ellis. "Tonight everybody gave it their all including all of our seniors. We went down swinging.
"I'm extremely proud of these girls especially against a great Hernando team."
Solovitch, who came in hitting .294, retraced her key two-run single.
"Honestly, I thought it was a groundout. I'm glad it went through," said the 17-year-old Solovitch. "This was a big game because we get to move on."
Solovitch gave props to Riddle's work in the circle, saying, "Courtney pitched really well tonight."
Lane, who arrived hitting .571, finished with three hits, plus a walk.
"Courtney pitched really well. She hit her marks and threw hard all night," pointed out her batterymate. "A big win like this just gets us started."
"It's awesome to break any record," responded the 18-year-old Riddle. "But I've got to give credit to Summer, she really picked me up after I struck out.
"I thought Central played really well tonight. It was a good, hard win."
Hernando 4, Central 1
123 456 7 R H E
CEN 000 001 0 - 1 2 3
HER 003 001 0 - 4 7 1
CEN - Koehler and Eisenhauer.
HER - Riddle and Lane.
W - Riddle (24-1). L - Koehler (6-18).
Records - Central (1-1 tourney, 6-20 overall), Hernando (1-0 tourney, 24-2 overall).
Nature Coast Technical 7, Zephyrhills 1
123 456 7 R H E
ZEP 000 000 1 - 1 4 2
NCT 210 121 0 - 7 12 0
ZEP - Tinajero, McCullough (3) and Hupp.
NCT - Primavera and C. Gonzalez.
W - Primavera (11-3). L - Tinajero (4-2).
3B - ZEP: Leddick, Christopher; NCT: Harvey.
Records - Zephyrhills (1-1 tourney, 13-12 overall), Nature Coast Technical (2-0 tourney, 22-3 overall).
5A-7 Girls Softball Tourney Recap at Tom Varn Park
Brooksville-Central 7, Dade City-Pasco 3
Zephyrhills 17, Weeki Wachee 2 (4 Inns.)
Brooksville-Nature Coast Technical 16, Wesley Chapel 1 (3 Inns.)
Brooksville-Nature Coast Technical 7, Zephyrhills 1
Brooksville-Hernando 4, Brooksville-Central 1
NCT vs. Hernando, 6 p.m.