Two long-time rivals – Pasco and Hernando – tangle for the 23rd time across 15 years in fast-pitch softball today at 7 p.m. at Tom Varn Park.
The occasion: It’s the winner-take-all Class 5A, Region II quarterfinal in Brooksville between the 5A-8 runner-up Lady Pirates (17-11) and 5A-7 champion Lady Leopards (20-7).
The survivor advances to Tuesday’s 5A-II semifinal against the survivor of Tavares at Gulf.
Teams are familiar with each other. Going back 15 seasons, HHS holds a slight series edge, 12-10.
The Lady Leopards snapped a four-game series losing streak against the Lady Pirates thanks to April 10’s 9-3 Senior Night triumph at Tom Varn Park.
That victory enabled eighth-year Hernando skipper Kevin Bittinger to improve to 2-7 lifetime against the East Pasco County club.
Pasco’s third-year head coach, Lisa Herndon, who teaches at Pasco Middle School, has been a fixture as an assistant coach since 2000.
Pasco is extremely capable of swinging the sticks, arriving with a sizzling .342 collective batting average. How potent is the Lady Pirate offense? The Red and Black arrive averaging 8.18 runs per game.
Of Pasco’s 15-member roster, eight are seniors. PHS is led by a trio players who have already signed to play next year in the collegiate ranks including: Kelli Parker at Flagler, and Jordan Lane and Liz Burchfield at Central Florida State College in Ocala.
The left-handed hitting leadoff batter Parker is having a season for the ages. Parker leads the team in every major offensive category including at-bats (102), runs scored (46), hits (51), extra-base hits (23) and batting average (.500).
Parker’s influence cannot be understated. She comes in with a .541 on base percentage and a whopping .882 slugging percentage.
Also shouldering the offensive punch is Lane, who arrives hitting .460 with a team-best 12 doubles and team-high 35 runs batted in.
The speedy Burchfield has accumulated almost as many runs (35) as hits (39).
Another threat is junior Amber Caudill. Caudill comes in hitting .373 behind 31 hits and featuring 26 RBI.
When the Lady Pirates have been bogged down at the plate, their running game has generated 73 stolen bases in 74 attempts. The leader of the pack is Parker with 32 steals in 33 tries.
In the last meeting two weeks ago in Hernando County, PHS was handcuffed to five hits by Lady Leopard right-hander Courtney Riddle (20-6).
In a solid complete-game effort, Riddle walked an uncharacteristic three batters against six strikeouts. Parker and Caudill led the visitors with two hits apiece.
Defensively, the Lady Pirates have committed 48 errors in 28 games (a paltry 1.71 errors per game).
Interestingly, in a game the Lady Pirates trailed 9-1 after five innings, they committed a game-high five errors including three by Lane and two by Caudill.
On the hill, PHS graduated its two finest hurlers in 2012 and has consistently rotated three pitchers this spring.
As a staff, PHS hurlers – Parker, Kaytlin Weeks and Taylor Brandt – have collectively struggled due to inexperience.
The Lady Pirate mound staff has permitted a staggering 183 hits in 164 innings pitched, allowing 139 runs (4.96 runs per game). Compounding matters: Lady Pirate pitchers have permitted opposing batters to hit a collective .273 behind a 4.87 earned run average.
In the key area of walks to strikeouts, PHS hurlers have issued more free passes (98, 3.5 per game) than strikeouts (78, 2.79 per game).
Earlier against HHS, Parker lasted 2 2/3 innings permitting eight runs, including seven earned. She walked four against one strikeout.
All told, the trio of Pasco hurlers issued a game-high 12 hits along with eight walks, against two punch outs.
Pasco will also have its hands full defending against a Lady Leopard running attack that has accumulated 139 steals in 149 attempts (93 percent) led by sophomore catcher Megan Lane’s 43-of-46 efforts.
The Purple and Gold are no slouches averaging 7.11 runs per game, fresh off the school’s ninth district championship Friday in extra innings against defending 5A-7 champion Tavares, 4-3.
Defensively, HHS has accumulated more errors than Pasco, 55-48, but flashed the leather during districts converting 69-of-71 chances (97 percent).
Momentum-wise, the Purple and Gold is riding a four-game winning streak.
On the bump, HHS holds a distinct edge with Player of the Year candidate Riddle. Forget her team-best .448 batting average and her county-leading 37 RBI, Riddle has pitched (160.2) almost as many innings across her 22 complete games as the entire Pirate staff (164.0).
How composed has Riddle been toeing the rubber? Consider opposing batters have hit .188 behind a county-high 166 strikeouts compared to a paltry 36 walks. Her strikeout-to-walk ratio is almost five-to-one.
Despite the two teams’ disparities, Coach Herndon can’t wait to play.
“Our strength? We’ve got some hitters, who can knock in some runs,” declared Herndon, who is 0-1 lifetime versus Hernando.
“We lost two senior pitchers in graduation last year. This year’s pitchers have the potential to pitch well,” she said. “Our four pitchers just don’t have that (critical) experience. They’re usually good for two-plus innings. I’d say Kelli (Parker) is our most consistent pitcher.”
Though the Lady Pirates on paper hold a slight edge in defense, “I don’t think we’ve had one error-free game this year,” frankly stated Coach Herndon. “And defense is huge this time of the year.”
On whether there’s any carryover from Friday night’s 8-1 spanking by Gulf for the 5A-8 title in Zephyrhills, “It’s hard to take away two homers,” noted Coach Herndon. “But if you take away two swings – a three-run homer and another two-run homer – we’re in that game.”
On the Lady Pirates’ wild card, their running attack, “We can do that,” she said. “Our short (bunting) game can put the ball in play. The key is pushing the runs across for us. We didn’t play a bad game (against Gulf). We only struck out three times.
“We have a young outfield and they took advantage. And we left too many runners on base (10).”
On what the Lady Pirates expect from Hernando, “They’re quick off the bat and put it where you’re not,” described Coach Herndon. “I’m glad we’re playing this game. After the last time we played, we’re looking forward to this.”
By contrast, “Pasco is a good-hitting team, the numbers bear that out,” explained Hernando head coach Kevin Bittinger. “They’ll definitely put the ball in play; we’ve got to be ready to play.”
On what Parker brings to the table, “Kelli (Parker) is very similar to Megan (Lane). They both set the table and set the tone,” Bittinger said. “If we can keep Parker off base, that’ll help. Let’s face it, Lane and Burchfield and everyone else feeds off what Parker does.”
Comparing the team’s nine errors on Senior Night, “I remember we got up on them quickly and then they settled down,” Bittinger said. “We played tremendous defense in districts; that must continue Wednesday.
“That last game against Pasco was a little deceiving.” Bittinger pointed out. “From the fifth inning on it was 2-1 Pasco. Luck hasn’t played a part in them reaching regionals; they’re a legit team.
“With Pasco’s batters, we can’t just rely on Courtney to bail us out every game,” predicted Bittinger. “We’ve got to come ready to go and defensively, we have to continue and make plays.”
At a Glance
What – Class 5A, Region II quarterfinal
Who – Pasco Lady Pirates (17-11, 5A-8 runners-up) at Hernando Lady Leopards (20-7, 5A-7 champion).
Where – Tom Varn Park
When – Today at 7 p.m.
At Stake – Quarterfinal winner advances to the 5A-II semifinal set for Tuesday against the survivor of Tavares at Gulf.
By the Numbers: Hernando vs. Pasco
- Compiled by TONY CASTRO
No. of regional appearances 15 11
No. of regional championships 2 2
No. of state appearances 2 2
No. of state championships 0 0
Regional W-L Record 15-15 9-11
Pasco vs. Hernando Girls Softball Series (1998-2013)
Leopard lead series 12-10
- Compiled by TONY CASTRO
YR SITE RESULT
1998 Home W 5-3
1998 Away W 3-1
1999 Away W 13-0
1999 Home W 7-0
2000 Away W 11-0
2000 Home W 11-1
2002 Away W 7-4
2004 Away W 6-0
2004 Home L 6-15
2004 Home W 4-3*
2005 Away W 1-0
2005 Home L 2-3 (8)
2005 Away L 0-2*
2006 Away L 1-7
2006 Home L 4-5
2007 Home W 5-4
2007 Away L 2-7
2008 Away L 0-6
2008 Home L 2-12
2009 Home L 2-11
2009 Away L 2-5
2013 Home W 9-3
* Denotes 3A-6 Championship