By JOHN SCHWARB, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 5, 2002
CLEARWATER -- It is almost indisputable Countryside should have gotten past this point long before this season.
But give the 2002 Cougars credit. When they finally did get past a region final, they did it in style.
Behind a no-hitter by sophomore Bree Spence, Countryside beat Naples 3-0 Saturday to advance to the state semifinals in Tampa.
The Cougars, 32-1 and ranked No.2 in 5A and No.6 in the USA Today/National Fastpitch Coaches Association poll, face Durant on Wednesday at the Ed Radice Sports Complex.
"This is sweet," Countryside coach Scott Kitchen said. "There's a lot of happiness, joy, relief."
The Cougars had made a habit of coming up short in the playoffs with great teams, losing in region finals in 1999 and 2000 and in the region semifinals last year with a team ranked No.1 in the state and USA Today poll.
This year, Countryside was not expected to fare as well with a sophomore ace. But Spence has silenced all doubters, especially during the postseason. She gave up one hit to Northeast in the region quarterfinal, four hits to Naples Gulf Coast in the semifinal and nothing to Naples.
The Golden Eagles (23-9) drew two walks early but were kept off base from the third on. Only two balls were hit out of the infield (one to short rightfield, where Kit Dunbar threw to first for the out), and Spence struck out 10.
"I just came out and played them like any other team and played aggressive," Spence said.
Spence got all the support she needed moments into the game, when leadoff hitter Kattrina Dowd hit an inside-the-park home run. On a 2-and-1 pitch, she slapped a shot to left that Erin Bamrick briefly lost in the sun. It got past her and continued rolling, and Dowd did not stop running.
"That was a heartbreaker," Naples coach Robert Iamurri said. "It was catchable.
"But hats off to them. They didn't open the door for us, and we're an opportunistic team. It's tough to score when you don't get to second base."
Countryside tacked on two runs in the second, when Kit Dunbar singled to score Kallan Casey and Sarah Yates (running for catcher Erin Brunt). During the inning, the Golden Eagles committed two errors, one more than they did during their 6-0 region semifinal victory over Palm Harbor U.
Dunbar, a sophomore, had three of Countryside's five hits.