St. Johns County will be represented in next week’s 26th FHSAA Finals at Vero Beach. Creekside senior right-hander Rachel Pence made sure of that.
Pence restricted a Lady Leopard team that arrived hitting a collective .357 in the state series to two harmless singles – Ashley Sims’ 12th postseason hit in the first inning and Summer Solovitch’s single in the fourth – through six innings.
Pence (15-1) overcame two walks with a game-high 11 strikeouts.
Reliever Lindsey Spatola closed out only the second shutout all season against HHS – the other was a 1-0 nod to 27-1 River Ridge in the Leopard Slam II semifinals – behind a 1-2-3 seventh frame.
Fourth-year Creekside (26-2), which cranked out a season-high 13 hits and 10 runs (eight earned) off HHS righty Courtney Riddle, converted 30-of-30 defensive chances to earn its first-ever state berth behind its first-ever regional title Friday at soggy Tom Varn Park, by taming host Hernando (22-8), 10-0.
“I felt in control of all my pitches,” pointed out the 18-year-old Pence. “God has helped me so much. Everything I do is for His glory.”
On the team’s huge bat support, “No way did I come here expecting us to put up 10 runs on Courtney (Riddle). Tonight was incredible” added Pence. “The win is huge. Right now we’re so focused on winning and setting school history.”
With the Class 5A, Region II crown, the Lady Knights will face Saturday’s 5A-IV survivor of Englewood-Lemon Bay at Plantation-American Heritage in next Wednesday’s state semifinal.
The 5A-IV final was postponed Friday due to showers.
Friday’s setback served as HHS’ worst loss since March 8, 2011’s 10-0 spanking at River Ridge.
Offensively, the Purple and Gold had few answers against Pence, who allowed only two other base runners – Danielle Harvey and Bre Mobley via back-to-back free passes in the third inning.
Only Harvey reached as far as second as Pence continuously intertwined her pitches with location.
At the plate, second-year skipper Sabrina Hartsell’s crew saw eight of its nine starters each collect at least one hit.
For a Lady Knights’ squad that arrived hitting .394, it departed Brooksville behind a 13-of-34 effort at the plate (.382).
The St. Johns County club denied Riddle (22-7) a chance of etching her third regional title-clinching victory and tying the school record of 23 wins in a single season, set by April Talbot and Chrissy Hartley.
Coming into the game, Riddle had handcuffed opposition batters to a collective .170 postseason batting average.
In the first frame, the first of two doubles by senior Colleen Darragh (who came in hitting .390) was sandwiched around two uncharacteristic free passes by Riddle.
Junior Ali French’s groundout to Solovitch at second plated Amanda McCullough, 1-0.
In a two-run second, an error, walk and fielder’s choice set the table for senior Jeannie Verderese’s fielder’s choice scoring Danielle Soto.
McCullough doubled down the left-field line to plate McKenzie Agate before being thrown out by Sierrra Cannon attempting to stretch the hit into a triple, 3-0.
Sophomore Jennifer Miller reached on the first of her game-high three hits to open the fourth. A second Lady Leopard error (HHS did convert 37-of-39 chances) preceded senior catcher Jordan Roberts’ RBI single, 4-0.
With one out in the fifth, CHS maintained its offensive pressure before Darragh’s second double was followed by senior Victoria Daddis’ RBI single.
Two batters later, Miller lined a single to right-center to plate Daddis, 6-0.
Against a tiring Riddle in the seventh, CHS tacked on four runs on five hits. In the uprising, French and Soto delivered RBI singles; Verderese rapped a RBI double while Miller capped a fine effort with a RBI triple.
Miller, Roberts, Darragh and Verderese each collected two hits apiece for the champs.
“We have a great pitching staff, I had to do my part,” explained the 16-year-old Miller, who finished 3-for-4 with two runs scored and two runs batted in. “I went up there (to the plate) real relaxed.”
On Pence’s mound heroics, “She was phenomenal; she always hits her spots,” remarked Miller. “And Lindsey (Spatola) did a great job, too. We have such a good pitching staff; they’re our rock.”
Afterward, HHS skipper Kevin Bittinger praised the visiting Lady Knights.
“Creekside is a great team. You tip your cap to them,” said Bittinger, who concluded his eighth season at 121-88 lifetime. “Sure, we have a lot of travel ball kids, but our lack of experience in school ball showed. We just couldn’t catch up to the game. I don’t think we got into any rhythm all night.”
The main reason, according to Bittinger, was Pence.
“Credit belongs to Pence,” admitted Bittinger. “She attacked the strike zone and she kept us off-balance all night – and we’re a pretty good hitting team.”
On where the Lady Leopards go from here, “We’re not going to allow one game to dictate our season,” explained Bittinger. “Coaching this team didn’t seem like work.
“We went from winning 14 games and losing in the district opener last year to coming within a win of states,” boasted a proud Bittinger. “Tonight left a bad taste in our mouth. I know they’re going to come ready to get better. This team’s strength is its tremendous work ethic.
“Tonight was a tough loss if we didn’t learn valuable lessons,” pointed out Bittinger. “This (loss) ain’t the end for this group. I think I speak for all the kids when I say I wish we could start next season tomorrow.”
Creekside 10, Hernando 0
123 456 7 R H E
CRK 120 120 4 – 10 13 0
HER 000 000 0 – 0 2 2
HER – Riddle and Lane.
CRK – Pence and Roberts.
W – Pence (15-1). L – Riddle (22-7).
2B – Darragh 2, Verderese, McCullough (CRK).
3B – Miller (CRK).
Records – Creekside (26-2), Hernando (22-8).
Class 5A, Region II Girls Softball Recap
Hernando 12, Pasco 2 (5½ Inns.)
Gulf 6, Tavares 1
Hernando 3, Gulf 1
St. Johns-Creekside 6, Citra-North Marion 0 (postponed to 05-01 due to field conditions)
Creekside 10, Hernando 0