BROOKSVILLE - Something had to give in Tuesday night's 22nd lifetime softball clash between Brooksville rivals, Hernando and host Nature Coast Technical.
In the first of two regular-season meetings, both teams arrived unbeaten - headed on a collision course for area bragging rights.
The host Lady Sharks appeared focused and on point scoring five runs (four earned) on five hits across the first two frames off HHS' stellar senior right-hander Courtney Riddle to lead early, 5-0.
The Purple and Gold didn't go away quietly; clawing back with single tallies in four of the final five frames, but it wasn't enough to avoid falling in the critical Class 5A, District 7 tilt, 5-4.
In less than two hours, NCT (7-0 overall, 5-0 5A-7, 4-0 county) right-handers Alyssa Gonzalez and Abbey Primavera scattered seven HHS hits to snap the Lady Leopards' previous five-game series win skein against the Lady Sharks.
NCT, which improved to 8-14 lifetime against the Lady Leopards (7-1 overall, 5-1 5A-7, 3-1 county), now owns the penthouse, sitting atop the county, district and neighborhood.
The Purple and Gold's best-ever start in 24 seasons - seven wins, all via shutout - came to an end in the first frame.
That's when 2013 All-County selection Kathryn Gonzalez opened the game with a ringing single to right.
Junior Brianna "Breezy" Harvey, who reached three times in four plate appearances, was plunked by the next pitch from Riddle (7-1).
With one out, junior Courtney David lined a single to left plating Gonzalez for a run batted in. Instantly David became the answer to the trivia question - who snapped Hernando's 38 1/3-inning shutout skein?
Sophomore Brittany Rodriguez grounded into a fielder's choice scoring David.
Primavera, who came in hitting .167, crushed a 1-1 pitch to right-center for a RBI single, 3-0.
The Lady Sharks weren't done padding the cushion with two tallies in the second.
With two outs, Kat Gonzalez coaxed a walk. On a night when the Lady Sharks stole 3-of-4 bases on rifle-arm All-County receiver Megan Lane, Gonzalez stole second.
Harvey, who came in sizzling behind a .455 average, deposited a 3-2 pitch into the left-center field gap for a RBI triple.
Chyloe Gonzalez then reached on the Lady Leopards' lone error of the game, plating Harvey, 5-0.
Though HHS defenders converted 28-of-29 chances that one miscue loomed larger as the game progressed.
HHS chipped away scoring single runs in the third, fourth, sixth and seventh innings.
Junior right fielder Erika Lewis, who came in with a .111 batting average, carried the day with two doubles. She doubled in the third, advanced to third on a ground out and scored on a throwing error, 5-1.
With two outs in the fourth, Lewis grounded sharply into the hole at third where Cerina Brooks knocked the ball down - too late to get senior Summer Solovitch at the plate.
Brooks, a freshman, quickly composed herself enough to spin around and lunge to tag a sliding Sierra Cannon at third base.
The visitors stayed in the game with a brilliant defensive gem in the bottom of the frame.
With two outs, Harvey reached on her second hit by pitch before Chyloe Gonzalez singled.
David followed with a sinking line smash to left. Cannon, however, got a great jump and made an ESPN highlight-reel shoestring catch to save at least two runs.
In the sixth, Solovitch, another 2013 All-County performer, reached on a fielder's choice and eventually scored on a two-out Lady Shark throwing error to first base, 5-3.
To open the seventh, Lewis smashed her second double to the base of the left-field fence.
At this point, second-year NCT skipper Ernie Chatman opted for Primavera.
Primavera enticed two groundouts - the second off the bat of Harvey plated Lewis - before fanning the dangerous Tana McDaniel.
Behind Primavera's second save of the season, the soft-tossing Alyssa Gonzalez earned her first-ever varsity mound win.
In all, Gonzalez (1-0) faced 27 batters allowing four runs (two earned), seven hits and one walk against two strikeouts.
From the visiting dugout, HHS' ninth-year skipper Kevin Bittinger offered up no excuses.
"They (NCT) came ready to play ball, we didn't," explained Bittinger, who dipped to 11-8 lifetime against the Lady Sharks. "It took us too long to get into any rhythm."
On the Lady Sharks' quick exit out of the gates, "We got a dose of reality tonight," emphasized Bittinger. "The girls need to understand every time we step between the lines, people are going to play us tough. We have to match that intensity.
"They're good team; they beat us," added Bittinger. "What this says is we've got to get back to work. A lot of the girls were worried about stats prior to this game; we've got to concentrate on playing better as a team."
Chatman believed the team's early start set the table.
"Anytime you score some runs early in a game, it gives your players confidence. In those first two innings, we had some really clutch hits," insisted Chatman.
On Alyssa Gonzalez's first-ever varsity win, "They key for her is she has to keep the ball down," noted Chatman. "She didn't even get her best pitch over much tonight - the changeup."
On Primavera's second clutch save, "She did what she had to do," said Chatman. "She's been in tight situations before on the mound."
Chatman somewhat downplayed the significance of the win.
"Whether we win or lose tonight, it's just one game," said Chatman. "The kids have to understand that. There's no doubt, every win is a good win. Unfortunately, we've still got to beat them to advance (in the playoffs)."
David, who arrived hitting .409, said the Lady Sharks made a statement Tuesday night.
"Two real good teams met tonight, but no one expected us to beat them," said the 16-year-old David. "Tonight's win was huge. They're our main rivals."
Rodriguez, 15, echoed David's sentiments, saying, "This game was huge for so many reasons. They thought we couldn't beat them.
"A lot of credit belongs to our pitchers. Alyssa kept it all together and then Abbey came into the game in the zone and finished it," she described. "After the first couple innings, we played well defensively and we backed up everybody."
Nature Coast Technical 5, Hernando 4
123 456 7 R H E
HER 001 101 1 - 4 7 1
NCT 320 000 x - 5 7 2
HER - Riddle and Lane.
NCT - A. Gonzalez, Primavera (7) and C. Gonzalez.
W - A. Gonzalez (1-0). L - Riddle (7-1). SV- Primavera (2).
2B - HER: Lewis (2).
3B - NCT: Harvey.
Records - Hernando (7-1 overall, 5-1 5A-7, 3-1 county), Nature Coast Technical (7-0 overall, 5-0 5A-7, 4-0 county).