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Monday, Mar 02, 2015

Riddle, Leopards stave off Sharks

Hernando Today correspondent

Published:   |   Updated: April 18, 2014 at 05:12 PM

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- For 6 2/3 innings, Hernando senior right-hander Courtney Riddle hurled a gem at archrival Nature Coast Technical during Thursday evening's Class 5A, District 7 Softball Tournament final at Tom Varn Park.

Riddle, the county's defending Player of the Year, appeared to have silenced a potent Lady Shark offense that arrived averaging over seven runs per game. It was the same offense that had sprayed 28 base hits over the first two rounds of districts.

But an out away from a four-hitter, the Lady Sharks sprang to life scoring four runs.

With junior Courtney David at second base representing the tying run, Riddle notched her third strikeout of the game, fanning Brittney Rodriguez to close a tenuous 6-5 win.

Behind the Lady Leopards' fifth straight win, HHS climbed to 25-2 overall and successfully defended its 2013 5A-7 crown.

As a result of the Purple and Gold's county-record 10th fast-pitch district title since 1990, the Lady Leopards will host the 5A-8 runner-up in next Thursday's 5A-Region II quarterfinal.

NCT (22-4), which dipped to 8-16 lifetime against Hernando, fell in only its second district final appearance - and first since 2009's 4-0 loss to Pasco in Dade City.

In Thursday's 5A-8 Tourney semifinals in New Port Richey, top-seeded Dunedin eliminated Land O' Lakes, 4-3, before top-seeded River Ridge blanked Sunlake, 6-0.

The Royal Knights will face the Lady Falcons at 10 a.m. Friday for the 5A-8 title.

As for the 5A-7 finale, Riddle (25-1) seemed to be in cruise control entering the seventh.

Though Cerina Brooks punched a leadoff single to left, Celine Kordon flied out.

Marriah Adams, who arrived hitting .139 but burned Riddle with an RBI triple to right-center plating Kordon in the third inning for the Lady Sharks' initial tally, walked on a 3-2 pitch, Riddle's first free pass of the game.

Kathryn Gonzalez, who arrived hitting .494, took her second 0-for-4 collar against Riddle by grounding into a fielder's choice.

But with two outs junior Brianna Harvey coaxed another free pass on a 3-2 pitch to load the sacks.

Sophomore catcher Chyloe Gonzalez laced a 0-1 offering to the base of the right-center field fence plating courtesy runner Abby Marshall, Kat Gonzalez and Harvey, 6-4.

On the next pitch, David punched an RBI double to left-center scoring Chyloe Gonzalez, before Riddle fanned Rodriguez.

In all, Riddle faced 32 batters, allowing a game-high eight hits and five runs (all earned) while notching her 22nd complete game of the season.

Riddle benefitted from a sparkling Lady Leopard defensive effort converting 34-of-35 chances. Shortstop Tana McDaniel was perfect on all six chances, including five assists.

HHS second sacker Summer Solovitch robbed Adams of a second hit with a brilliant backhand and assist for the second out in the fifth.

Offensively, HHS, which arrived averaging 7.88 runs and 10 hits per game, watched Lady Leopard catcher Megan Lane single to center to open the game.

Lane's 56th hit this season snapped shortstop Jill Pendergast's 1991 school record of 55 hits in a single-season.

Junior third sacker Danielle Harvey bunted for an infield single placing runners at the corners.

With one out, Riddle flared an RBI single over Adams' head at second base.

In the third inning after NCT scored, McDaniel singled to right to open the frame.

With one out, Solovitch unloaded a two-run homer off starter Abbey Primavera (11-3) over the left-center field fence. The dinger was Solovitch's fourth of the season.

In the critical three-run fourth inning, the Lady Sharks' defense suffered two hiccups. After a leadoff walk to Lauren Moore, Erika Lewis grounded back to Primavera for a possible double play.

Instead, Primavera threw low in the dirt toward second base permitting Moore to reach.

Lane grounded to Harvey, who committed an error, allowing the bases to load. McDaniel followed by rifling a sacrifice fly to right, plating Moore.

Riddle scorched a two-run double to right-center on her second hit plating Lewis and Lane for the last of three unearned runs off Primavera, 6-1. The three runs batted in pushed Riddle's county-leading total to 43 - or one more than the single-season school record she set last season.

? ? ?

From the visitors' dugout, veteran skipper Ernie Chatman, who dropped to 1-5 lifetime against Hernando, was encouraged in how the Lady Sharks competed to the last batter.

"You have to give credit to their (Hernando's) defense, they played outstanding defense," cited Chatman. "But we're proud of how we swung the bats. They made some plays to keep us from scoring.

"As well as we hit the ball at the end of the game against a quality pitcher like Riddle, it gives us a confidence going into next week."

In the keys to the game, "Giving up those three unearned runs in the fourth was big," noted Chatman. "The last two times we faced them, one poor inning has been the determining factor."

On facing either Dunedin or River Ridge next week, "I think we match up better with Dunedin, though we haven't seen them yet," he said. "I'm just going off what I've heard."

"Riddle pitched well. Maybe it was a little too much adrenaline with two outs in the seventh," detailed HHS skipper Kevin Bittinger following his second district title in nine seasons. "Until that last inning Courtney kept them off-balance. Sometimes we forget that these are high school kids."

Bittinger gave props to his defense.

"Top to bottom this might have been the best defensive effort I've seen in nine years," he said. "It wasn't just one player. Tana read the ball well at shortstop and Summer and Danielle (Harvey) each made some great plays."

The skipper also sprinkled praise on the clutch offense supplied by Solovitch and Riddle.

"Big-time players make big-time plays," quipped Bittinger. "Summer has ice water in her veins. This is the time of year she turns it up. And what can you say about Courtney driving in three runs? She's done it all year."

"Honestly when I hit the ball, I didn't think it was going out," insisted the 17-year-old Solovitch. "It was cool when it went over because we really needed the runs."

Solovitch agreed with Bittinger's assessment of the Lady Leopards' team defense.

"I thought this was one of the best infields we've ever had," she said. "We made play after play."

In defending the district title, "This is awesome," she said. "I thought winning last year was harder because the game was so close."

Riddle admitted to some anxious moments late in the game.

"When we were up 6-1, all I was thinking about was getting three outs," expressed the 18-year-old Riddle. "Those last two walks were a lack of concentration on my part. On those last two hits, I missed my spots."

On which district title run was tougher, "This one was tougher," identified Riddle. "Last year, we kind of embraced the underdog role. This year, it's like we've got a big target on ours backs."

Hernando 6, Nature Coast Technical 5

123 456 7 R H E

NCT 001 000 4 - 5 8 2

HER 102 300 x - 6 7 1

NCT - Primavera, A. Gonzalez (4) and C. Gonzalez.

HER - Riddle and Lane.

W - Riddle (25-1). L - Primavera (11-4).

2B - NCT: David; HER: Riddle.

3B - NCT: Adams, C. Gonzalez.

HR - HER: Solovitch.

Records - Nature Coast Technical (2-1 tourney, 22-4 overall), Hernando (2-0 tourney, 25-2 overall).

Class 5A, District 7 Softball Tourney Recap

at Tom Varn Park

04-15: Quarterfinals

Central 7, Pasco 3

Zephyrhills 17, Weeki Wachee 2 (4 Inns.)

Nature Coast Technical 16, Wesley Chapel 1 (3 Inns.)

04-16: Semifinals

Nature Coast 7, Zephyrhills 1

Hernando 4, Central 1

04-17: Championship

Hernando 6, Nature Coast 5

All-Time Hernando County Fast-Pitch

Softball District Championships (22)

- Compiled by TONY CASTRO

Hernando (9)

Year District Record Head Coach

1990 3A-6 23-4 Mike Majeske

1991 3A-4 23-3 Brent Gaustad

1993 3A-4 20-2 Brent Gaustad

1998 4A-8 21-10 Ernie Chatman

1999 4A-8 26-6 Ernie Chatman

2000 3A-6* 27-4 Ernie Chatman

2001 3A-6* 30-4 Ernie Chatman

2004 3A-6 19-6 Doug Rogers

2013 5A-7 22-8 Kevin Bittinger

2013 5A-7 25-2 Kevin Bittinger

Hernando Christian Academy (7)

Year District Record Head Coach

2004 1A-5 8-9 Sue Seidelmann

2005 1A-5 10-4 Sue Seidelmann

2006 1A-8 18-5 Sue Seidelmann

2007 1A-8 17-3 Sue Murphy

2008 1A-6 13-6 Sue Murphy

2009 1A-6* 22-6 Ernie Chatman

2010 1A-8 21-5 Ernie Chatman

Springstead (4)

Year District Record Head Coach

2002 4A-7 19-7 Carmine Rufa

2003 4A-7 20-3 Craig Swartout

2011 5A-7 21-3 Craig Swartout

2012 6A-6 23-5 Craig Swartout

Central (1)

Year District Record Head Coach

2001 4A-6 17-9 Benny Martinez

* Denotes Final Four participant

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