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CRYSTAL RIVER - Crystal River proved it can survive without its best player and team leader, first baseman Ashley Bullion. The Pirates can't wait to have her back tonight, though.
The top-seeded Pirates barely squeaked by No. 4 seed Lecanto (9-15) with a 3-2 victory in Thursday's semifinals. While the game was uncomfortably close, the Pirates (16-4) were relieved to remain alive after going a week without playing because of weather delays and entering a game without Bullion. Bullion, a USF signee, was serving a seven-day, two-game suspension after throwing her bat in a game last week, but yelled words of encouragement from behind home plate as she kept score in the stands.
"Ashley's like our big motivator," said rightfielder Katelyn McNally, who replaced Elisha Fitzpatrick, who played in Bullion's spot at first base. "We knew we could do it though."
McNally scored the winning run in the fifth inning after capitalizing on a couple of Lecanto mistakes. She hit a single to shortstop, then reached second on a shortstop error. After attempting to steal third, a Panthers' over throw allowed her to run home. The Pirates face South Lake in tonight's championship game, and they will do it with Bullion back in the lineup.
"It's been different playing without her," Crystal River coach Justin Wentworth said. "We know that she's going to play 100 mph, 110 percent and every other cliche you can think of."
Crystal River and South Lake split this season, with each recording 1-0 wins over each other.
South Lake defeated Springstead (14-11) in the earlier semifinal after South Lake jumped ahead with two runs in the first inning. The Eagles battled to get ahead, scoring one run in the sixth, but with a runner in scoring position in the final inning, Springstead couldn't get past South Lake's defense.