It took 12 long years, but host Hernando captured another fast-pitch regional win Wednesday against archrival Pasco at Tom Varn Park.
Not since May 1, 2001’s 2-1 nod in Brooksville over Keystone Heights had the Lady Leopards (21-7) carved out a first-round regional victory.
On Wednesday, HHS extended its current winning skein to five in a row by riding right-hander Courtney Riddle’s three-hitter and its overwhelming 12-hit attack against a pair of light-tossing Pasco (17-12) hurlers, 12-2 in 5½ innings.
The game ended via the 10-run mercy run after the Purple and Gold sent 10 batters to plate in the bottom of the sixth, scoring eight runs with one out.
Hernando will travel to New Port Richey next Tuesday for a Class 5A, Region II semifinal at 7 p.m. against Gulf.
On Wednesday, 5A-District 8 champion Gulf ousted 5A-7 runner-up Tavares, 6-1.
Again Riddle (21-6) was the ringleader. The junior hurled six innings for her county-best 23rd complete game. She fanned three against two walks and one hit batter.
Pasco, which arrived hitting .342 and averaging over eight runs per game, was handcuffed to three harmless singles. Its potent top five batters were restricted to a collective 1-for-13 (.077).
In all, the fifth-year mound starter Riddle (two years at HCA, three at HHS) allowed two runs, one earned while holding the dangerous Pasco bats to a collective 3-for-22 effort (.136).
At the plate, Riddle, who came in hitting .448, helped herself with a 3-for-3 effort highlighted by two doubles, three runs batted in, plus a walk.
Not that Riddle shouldered the offensive burden; far from it. Senior center fielder Ashley Sims, who went 7-for-8 (.875) in districts, finished 3-for-4 and scored three runs.
Sophomore catcher Megan Lane also reached double figures finishing 2-for-4 with two runs scored.
The eight-run uprising was highlighted by junior second sacker Summer Solovitch and sophomore Erika Lewis each clubbing two-run doubles. Lane enjoyed a RBI triple while Sims and Riddle smacked RBI singles.
HHS, which went 69-of-71 (97 percent) with the leather on defense, converted 28-of-30 chances (93 percent).
Three of the finest plays revolved around Riddle.
With Ashtyn Schildt aboard on a leadoff single in the third, PHS’ starting pitcher, Kaytlin Weeks, bunted into a pop out to Riddle, who turned and completed a double play with first sacker Darrien Hunter.
In the pivotal fourth, Amber Caudill attempted a squeeze, Lizzy Burchfield broke for home but Riddle underhanded a perfect relay to Lane, who not only blocked the plate, but tagged Burchfield out on the top of the helmet.
Two batters later with the sacks loaded, Schildt lined into a low sinker that shortstop Tana McDaniel dug out to limit the Lady Pirates to one unearned run.
Pasco’s second run arrived in the sixth when after Jordan Lane walked, senior Hannah Johnson followed with a RBI single.
Compared to Riddle, Weeks (6-3) was tattooed for 10 runs (eight earned) on 10 hits in 5 1/3 innings. She failed to fan a batter while issuing a game-high five walks.
Reliever Taylor Brandt didn’t fare much better against the three batters she faced. She allowed two runs (one earned) on two hits and did not retire a batter.
“Pasco played tough,” described Coach Bittinger, who captured a regional victory in his first-ever attempt. “They were on the edge of scoring a few times.
“I will say we did a great job against (senior Kelli) Parker (who finished 0-for-3),” added Bittinger. “She’s going to hurt a lot of pitchers in college.”
On the Lady Leopards’ key components Wednesday, “Sims and Riddle have continued to play an unreal pace,” declared Bittinger, who improved to 3-7 lifetime against Pasco. “When you’re hot, you’re hot: that’s those two.”
Two Lady Leopard errors served as unwanted pimples.
“We wanted to play a little better defensively,” said Bittinger. “We fired the ball over a couple times a little too quickly. I’d give our defense a C-plus. I know we’re capable of playing so much better.”
On the prospects of playing Gulf, “They didn’t get this far by accident,” noted Bittinger. “They’re a good team, too.”
“I’m seeing the ball really well,” explained the 17-year-old Sims, who along with Lane reached on a first-inning infield single before McDaniel drove in one run with a sacrifice fly while Solovitch drove in the other with a ground out.
Sims followed with an infield single in the fifth and scored two batters later on a RBI double by Riddle.
Lane admitted Riddle wasn’t necessarily on the top of her game.
“With the strike zone we were working with, she pitched really well,” said the 16-year-old Lane. “Give her credit, she was hitting her marks. I thought we came in very focused. I like the fact that everybody hit.”
“I thought we all came in ready to play and focused,” said the 17-year-old Riddle, who knocked in McDaniel with a RBI double in the third and Sims with a RBI double in the fifth along with run-scoring single in the sixth for her county-high 38th, 39th and 40th runs batted in.
“I think after we saw a few pitches, we all adjusted at the plate,” added Riddle.
“It felt really nice to help contribute,” said the 16-year-old Lewis, who arrived with a .222 batting average. “Pasco’s a good team; they came in strong. I just think we can play even better; there’s still room for improvement.”
Hernando 12, Pasco 2 (5½ Inns.)
123 456 R H E
PAS 000 101 – 2 3 2
HER 201 018 – 12 12 2
PAS – Weeks, Brandt (6) and Caudill.
HER – Riddle and Lane.
W – Riddle (21-6). L – Weeks (6-3).
2B – Riddle 2, Solovitch, Lewis (HER).
3B – Lane (HER).
Records – Pasco (17-12), Hernando (21-7).
Class 5A, Region II Girls Softball Recap
Hernando 12, Pasco 2 (5½ Inns.)
Gulf 6, Tavares 1
Hernando at Gulf, 7 p.m.