By ROD GIPSON
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 5, 2002
RIVERVIEW -- It wasn't about neighborhood supremacy Saturday. It wasn't about ace pitchers Beth DiPietro and Stacey Bronson facing off. And the district? That was settled a few weeks ago.
In the end, it came down to who would earn a shot at the state title. And although Bloomingdale and Riverview had split four games, the Sharks won when it counted most.
Behind the pitching of DiPietro and early offense, Riverview defeated Bloomingdale 1-0 in the region final. The Sharks (27-5) advanced to the state semifinals Thursday at Ed Radice Park and face Davie Western.
"We had a lot of determination to come out and win," DiPietro said. "We had to scrap for our runs all this year, and not many people thought we could get as far as this. But we were really determined."
That determination paid off early for the Sharks and DiPietro.
The pitching showdown did not materialize. Bronson struggled in the first, giving up a hit and three walks, the last of which came with the bases loaded that scored DiPietro.
Bronson gave way to Allison Kime in the second, and she struck out nine and allowed three hits and no runs.
The damage, however, was done.
DiPietro (25-4) handled the Bulls (25-7), limiting them to one hit, allowing two baserunners past first and striking out five.
"Coming off my last game (a 6-1 victory over Greenacres John I. Leonard), I don't think I threw nearly as well," DiPietro said. "But I guess I did what I had to."
PLANT CITY -- Durant gained revenge for its district final loss to Plant City with a 7-2 victory Saturday and earned its first state semifinal berth.
The Cougars face Countryside on Wednesday.
The Raiders scored a run on two hits in the first and held the lead until the fourth.
Even though Plant City junior Jenna Thompson did not give up a hit through three innings, she was replaced by senior Miranda Gunn in the fourth.
Gunn (11-7) allowed the first two Cougars to reach on a walk and error. Before the inning was over, both scored along with two others to put Durant up 4-1.
Thompson finished the inning, but it was too late.
"We are peaking at the right time," Durant coach Melissa Sigmon said. "All season, when we were down, we were out. In this regional run, we were down in two games and came back to win. I really feel good about our chances (at state)."
Mandy Garcia (14-3) scattered five hits and shut down the Raiders in the sixth, when they put two in scoring position with one out. Hayley Mallory hit two doubles and scored both Raiders runs.
Jamie Carter hit a double and scored twice for Durant.
-- TERRY JONES
TAMPA -- Sickles' Jackie Leppla and Barron Collier's Kris Schaus dueled for seven scoreless innings Saturday, but Schaus' Cougars came up with three runs in the eighth to advance to next week's state tournament.
For the Gryphons (22-4), who came within two games of another state crown, the 3-0 loss ended an amazing run as defending 6A champions.
"The seniors I've had the opportunity to work with the last four years, I'm sorry for them," Sickles coach Tammy Overcash said. "But they're great kids and they'll bounce back."
Leppla, a junior, limited the Cougars (19-7) to three hits through seven innings. She also struck out six and walked one.
But Schaus was better. Coming off a no-hitter against Plant in the region semifinals, the sophomore was perfect through 42/3 innings before Leppla singled to give the Gryphons their first baserunner. Schaus pitched eight shutout innings, striking out 13 and yielding two hits and one walk.
Sickles appeared ready to take the lead in the seventh after putting runners on second and third with one out. But Schaus responded by striking out Laura Templeton for the third time and induced Leppla to ground out to second, sending the game into extra innings.
"The way (Schaus) was throwing in the game, she takes it so personal that she wasn't going to give up another hit," Barron Collier coach Gregg Lewis said. "She takes every pitch to heart. ... This pitcher can strike out any batter."
In the top of the eighth, Leppla retired Christine Pittman to start the inning, but Christy Matulay followed with an infield single. Leppla got Janette Dulaney to fly out to right for the second out, but then the Cougars found the seams in the Gryphons' defense.
After Matulay stole second, Katy Steffan singled off the glove of Tiffany Clark at third to bring home the Cougars' first run. Alyssa Van Gemert then singled off the glove of a diving Hollister up the middle. With runners on second and third, Kristin Consolino blooped a single behind short to bring home Steffan and Van Gemert to close out the scoring.
-- ANTHONY GAGLIANO
TAMPA -- The region final between the state's No. 1- and No. 2-ranked teams, Lakeland Highland Prep and Academy of the Holy Names, came down to one pitch according to AHN coach Larry Rodriguez.
A pitch he believed was a dead-center third strike that ended Lake Highland's threat with three outs in the seventh inning. Instead, the pitch was called a ball, which caused loud jeers from about 100 fans. The following fastball was smacked to the left-centerfield gap, pushing two runs across home plate and giving Lake Highland a 3-1 lead.
"I have to say that one (called ball) cost us the ballgame," Rodriguez said. "You can't just throw the whole season on one pitch like that."
Academy (21-2) threatened in the bottom of the seventh when Cassy Favorito lined a RBI single to deep center with one out. But Favorito and Emily Rivard, who walked, ended up stranded at second and third after the next two hitters struck out.
"In the end, you really have to give these girls credit," Rodriguez said. "They came up to bat in that seventh inning believing they could still win.
"We reminded them before they went up for that final at-bat that on five occasions this season we scored seven runs with two outs. So they knew they could do it, and they certainly went down fighting."
Academy went right to work in the first when Jennifer Jacobs singled in leadoff hitter Nicole Russell, giving the Jaguars a 1-0 lead they would hold until the fifth. Lake Highland (26-3) tied it with a couple of singles and a sacrifice bunt in the fifth, giving Highlanders coach Larry Boyce a huge relief.
Before that little rally, the Highlanders had one hit and Boyce said he was thinking, "Oh boy, this could end up 1-0 if my bats don't wake up.
"I was concerned because I know (Academy pitcher Jacobs) is very tough."
The victory gives Lake Highland a berth in next week's state tournament at Tampa's Ed Radice Softball Complex. The Highlanders were state runners-up last season.
"We're just happy to get there after this game," Boyce said. "(AHN) was the best team we've faced this year, and that was a great ballgame to be a part of. A great, great game."
Rodriguez said: "I really believe that we just played the real state championship. I think these two teams (are the top two in Class 2A)."
-- SCOTT PURKS