Cougars have last say

Countryside earns state berth in season's fourth meeting with Cowboys.

Published May 2, 2007

TAMPA - One thing has been certain this season when it comes to Gaither-Countryside softball - there is no lack of drama.

The theme continued in the fourth edition of their intense rivalry Tuesday night in the Region 3 final. For the third time, one run decided the outcome.

This time, Countryside built a big lead before withstanding a Gaither rally to take a 4-3 decision and advance to the state tournament next week in Plant City.

Ironically, the score was the same as in their district tournament final, which Gaither won on an illegal pitch call.

"Once we lost the district, it was a big factor for us, " said Countryside coach Kaylyn Bayly of her team's motivation to face Gaither again.

"Getting back here to play them for a chance for state."

Early on, it appeared Countryside (24-5) would have an easy time advancing.

The Cougars got to Gaither pitcher Morgan Grove in the third inning with three straight singles and an infield error for a 2-0 lead.

Senior outfielder Brooke Mitchell then shook off a monthlong slump and blasted a Grove pitch over the left field wall for a two-run homer and a 4-0 advantage.

And with Countryside pitcher Desiree Baker seemingly on cruise control, a Gaither comeback appeared remote.

After allowing two Gaither runners in the second inning, Baker allowed only one more through through five innings and struck out the side in the fifth. But an inning later, Gaither (23-7) made things interesting.

Katie Clemente hit one of her three singles, advanced to third on an error, then scored to get the Cowboys on the board.

A couple batters later, Kristen McGrath hit a line drive two-run homer to left field to narrow the Countryside lead to one.

"I told our team we were still in it, " said coach Al Alcala, who guided a Gaither team to the region finals for the first time in 11 years.

"We made some adjustments but we weren't disciplined enough at the plate. We just couldn't get the job done."

Countryside 4, Gaither 3