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Execution crucial in Leopards' win

By BRANT JAMES

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 9, 2000


BROOKSVILLE -- A lot of elements went into Hernando High's 1-0 victory over Central for the Class 3A, Region II softball championship.

Not among them was surprise.

Having met three times already this season -- two more potential meetings were lost when tournaments were canceled -- neither team needed a scouting report. That made execution tantamount, and the Leopards executed just a smidge better, enough to make a single, some savvy baserunning by Kimi Olmstead and a run-scoring bunt by Christene Dennis in the second inning enough to launch Hernando (27-3) into the Florida Finals for the first time in fast-pitch softball.

"I guess you really can't try and fool them," Chrissy Hartley said after tossing a complete-game one-hitter Friday. "I throw it and they can hit it, if they hit it where it's pitched. If I throw it there and they get a hit, good for them.

"They're not going to hit it all the time and I'm not going to get it where I want to pitch it all the time. Whatever happens happens and you just have to deal with it."

Hartley had to deal with game-long pressure on the mound, and Leopards coach Ernie Chatman tried to minimize the strain at the plate, even though she is the team's most dangerous hitter with a .431 batting average.

With Hernando leading 1-0 in the third, Hartley struck out with runners on second and third. Chatman, hoping to keep his pitcher's mind on the mound, had her bunt in her next at-bat, and wished he had made the same call in the third.

"If I had to do it all over again," he said, "I would have bunted Chrissy, for more of a psychological thing than anything else. I wanted her going out there with a more positive attitude. If she bunted out, no big deal. I didn't want her striking out. That's why I did that (in the sixth). I didn't want her to strike out where she might take it with her to the next inning."

Hartley admitted she was much more pleased with her six strikeouts on the mound than her 0-for-3 night at the plate.

"I was completely satisfied with my pitching," she said. "I was throwing it where I wanted to 95 percent of the time."

Hernando meets Region I champion Navarre (20-7) at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday in the Class 3A state semifinals at Auburndale. Bartow and Suncoast meet at 6:30.

STATE FINAL: Players and coaches from both teams heaped praise on each other following the game, many openly saying the winner of the game would win the state title. Among them was Central interim coach Paul Pape.

"These were the two best teams in the whole North region and we happen to be meeting here," he said. "It took a great team to beat us. I told the girls before the game, the winner of this one was going to go on and win states. I mean that sincerely."

CELLING OUT: Central coach Benny Martinez missed the game on Friday so he could attend the graduation of his stepdaughter from the University of Florida. He stayed updated on game situations via cellular phone with Pape's wife, Robin.

DEFLECTION CONNECTION: Hernando's defense was sharp on Friday, both on routine plays and tricky ones. Twice in consecutive innings, Hartley and third baseman Jamie Kunkel combined to make outs by fielding a carom off the other.

The first play may have saved the game for Hernando. Hartley caught a line drive off Kunkel before it hit the ground and threw to first base to double off Stacey Waters, who had singled. The play was not that simple, however, as Hartley threw wildly to first, but first baseman Beth Chatman had time to recover for the putout as Waters never stopped running.

"It's one of those instinct plays," Paul Pape said. "You see it, it hits the girl, you figure it's going to hit the ground and you just react. You just keep going."

In the seventh, Kunkel fielded a liner off Hartley and threw to first for the first out.

"I think we played great defensively," Ernie Chatman said. "And we had some tricky plays. It was about the best we've executed all year."

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