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Monday, Mar 02, 2015

Leopards solve Springstead for seventh straight time

Hernando Today correspondent


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SPRING HILL - When one attempts to identify the idiom "When push comes to shove" - perhaps a corresponding picture will be shown of Hernando senior second sacker Summer Solovitch.

The idiom refers to responding "as a last resort" or "if absolutely necessary."

That exactly summarizes the definition of the All-County soccer and softball selection.

Last season, Solovitch won three games on three late-inning swings.

On Thursday night at Springstead, braving 50-degree temperatures, visiting Hernando was clinging to what was a four-run cushion that melted down to one run, 4-3, with one out in the top of the sixth.

But Solovitch, who had already smacked a two-run triple in a fourth-run, fourth-inning rally, unloaded. She blasted a 1-2 Louisa Disi pitch over the heart of the plate over the left center-field fence to help seal Hernando's closer-than-expected 6-3 win.

Solovitch, who arrived hitting .450, had plenty of motivation. She struck out swinging in the second inning - one of Disi's game-high 10 strikeouts against zero walks.

Ahead 4-0 after 3 frames, Solovitch's two-out hurried throw to first baseman Darrian Hunter was scored an error permitting Brooke Fischbach to score, 4-1.

In the fifth, Brittny Desmond ripped her second base hit of the evening with one out. Disi, who helped herself with a team-best 3-for-4 effort, followed with a center to single.

Fischbach, who came in hitting an uncharacteristic .250, rapped a run-scoring single to center. But HHS center fielder Nikki Patrick was charged with an error as the ball went under her glove to the left-center field fence, plating Disi, 4-3.

With one out and two runners in scoring position, HHS senior right-hander Courtney Riddle bore down. She enticed Sarah Kelly to ground out without any advancement before fanning Morgan Selby.

Riddle (10-1), who stranded eight Lady Eagle runners, faced the identical situation in the seventh.

With Desmond aboard on a fielder's choice, Disi collected her third single. Unfazed, Riddle forged back-to-back groundouts to push the Lady Leopards (10-1 overall, 5-1 county) to their seventh straight series win over SHS (5-8 overall, 0-4 county).

Despite HHS climbing to 21-9 over SHS since 2000, there was no celebration from the Brooksville nine.

"We need to come out and play softball," declared the 17-year-old Riddle. "I don't think we've played the kind of softball we're capable of all season."

On what's missing, "We're not playing with passion," noted Riddle, the county's defending Player of the Year. "Trust me we've worked hard to get here. We've got all the talent in the world, but you've got to do it every night."

Shortstop and senior captain Tana McDaniel gave props to Solovitch.

"She came through in the clutch," described the 18-year-old McDaniel. "The lesson we learned tonight was we've got to come out hungry."

Solovitch praised Riddle's mound work.

"She works hard every game. Tonight was no different," detailed the 17-year-old Solovitch.

Recalling her third homer of the season, "Yeah, when I hit it, I knew it was going out," said Solovitch. "I thought the hit I got before decided the game, and then Springstead came back. Right now, we're playing inconsistent; we've got to find our passion for the game."

"Big-time players step up in big-time spots," declared HHS' ninth-year skipper Kevin Bittinger, who improved to 13-5 lifetime against SHS. "That's Solovitch in a nutshell. The homer she had tonight was a shot. She's had those big base hits for us over the past two years."

Referring to the Lady Leopards' mid-inning malaise, "We got ahead (4-0) and then we thought we'd just put it in cruise control," noted Bittinger. "I tip my cap to (Springstead head coach) Craig (Swartout), they made it a game. (Louisa) again pitched a helluva game; she kept us off-balance. We haven't struck 10 times (in a game) all season."

On what Bittinger took away from his team's third straight win, "For years, we've embraced that underdog role," he said. "But this year's different. We're the team that's expected to play perfect ball - that's a learning process. After Springstead closed the gap, we needed a quick-strike inning. The girls have got to get back into attack mode and maintain our intensity."

There are no consolation prizes for Swartout.

SHS has undoubtedly played the toughest schedule in Hernando County. The Spring Hill ball club's eight losses have been to six teams with a combined 48-6 won-lost record (.889 winning percentage).

"I really think we're a lot better than our record shows," pointed out Swartout, who dipped to 8-16 lifetime against HHS. "I told the girls afterward that the first half of the season is over. We wanted to gauge ourselves against the toughest schedule anyone around here has seen.

"I really believe our schedule has tested us and will serve us well in the second half," he added. "We played some girls who have never played at this level before - that will certainly help us down the road. It's good to see how close losses have affected us. I'm looking forward to a better second half."

Hernando 6, Springstead 3

123 456 7 R H E

HER 000 402 0 -6 8 2

SPG 000 000 0 - 3 7 1

HER - Riddle and Lane.

SPG - Disi and Fischbach.

W - Riddle (10-1). L - Disi (5-7).

2B - HER: Cannon.

3B - HER: Solovitch.

HR - HER: Solovitch.

Records - Hernando (10-1 overall, 5-1 county), Springstead (5-8 overall, 0-4 county).

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