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Prep Sports Report

Bob Putnam, Rodney Page, Kelly Parsons

District softball: Plant City 1, East Bay 0

VALRICO – Plant City sophomore Abbie DeWeese played make-believe in arguably the most important at-bat of her career so far. She didn't waste any time making a believer out of herself.

With East Bay fans cheering loudly for a double play that appeared to get the Indians out of big-time trouble in the sixth inning, Deweese hit the next pitch for a single to drive in the game's only run in Plant City's 1-0 victory Friday for the Class 8A, District 6 championship.

It was the first lifetime game-winning hit for DeWeese, a rightfielder whose two-out line drive near the rightfield line scored Edmilly Molina from third base. Her hit off hard-luck loser Haley Murphy came moments after East Bay leftfielder Kylan Armstrong keyed a double play to keep the game scoreless.

Top-seeded Plant City (19-2), who won its third consecutive district title under coach Ashley Bullion, loaded the bases with no outs. Winning pitcher Ashley Blessin led off with a single and sprinted to third on the play when the East Bay rightfielder committed a two-base throwing error. Molina then was hit by a pitch and Beka Schulte reached on a bunt single to fill the bases. …

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Region track: Hillsborough romps while sweeping team titles

CLEARWATER – It was appropriate that, after 10 hours of rugged competition at Clearwater High, Hillsborough's girls and boys 4x400 meter relay squads ran away with substantial victories to wrap up Friday's Class 3A, Region 3 meet. After all, the Terrier team was sprinting away from the competition all day.

Qualifying athletes in 10 events for next weekend's state meet at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Hillsborough handily defeated runnerup Fort Myers, 102 points to 69 on the girls side and 105.5-77 for the boys.

“Everyone on the team works for each other,” said senior sprinter Savyon Toombs. “We run with pride.”

Amazingly, Toombs had Hillsborough's lone individual title on the girls side, winning the 400 in 55.32 seconds, almost two seconds faster than runnerup and teammate Jamie Hickman.

“It could've been better,” Toombs said. “My starts are always horrible in the 400. I don't get out like I'm supposed to.”

The senior posted a personal best in placing second in the 200 (23.71) and ran the second leg in the Terriers' first-place 4x400 relay (3:55.64). …

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HomeTeam Hot Shots: Nominations for April 22-28

Each week, our HomeTeam staffers nominate male and female Hot Shot athletes from each of the counties we cover. Then we turn the voting over to readers. These nominations span Saturday, April 22 through Friday, April 28. Read up on all of our nominees then vote until noon Monday.

Female nominees

Sammy Conlan, softball, Robinson: The senior threw a three-hit shutout and had had three hits and three RBIs in a 9-0 victory over Jefferson in the Class 6A, District 8 championship.

Alex Hare, softball, Mitchell: The shortstop made several stellar plays in the field and had a sacrifice fly that scored Julia Jerard in the 15th inning to cap off a wild 1-0 victory over Sunlake in the Class 7A, District 10 title game.

Devyn Howard, softball, Tarpon Springs: Her leadoff homer in the second inning gave the Spongers the momentum they needed to knock off top-seeded Boca Ciega 5-1 in the Class 6A, District 9 championship.

Kamryn Jackson, softball, Sickles: The sophomore was a combined 6-for-8 with three triples, a double and four RBIs in wins over Plant and Steinbrenner to take the Class 8A, District 5 title. …

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District softball: Admiral Farragut 5, Northside Christian 1

BRADENTON – The prospects of Admiral Farragut making the playoffs for the fourth straight season seemed remote, at least at the beginning of the season.

The defending Class 3A state semifinalist Blue Jackets graduated three starters, including ace Corynn Miner. This year’s roster has two seventh-graders, four eighth-graders and six freshmen. 

It was supposed to be too much to overcome. 

The Blue Jackets took some lumps early with losses to Osceola (11-0) and Academy at the Lakes (17-2) at the beginning of the season. But they kept getting better. 

They also showed their resiliency. In Thursday’s Class 3A-5 semifinals, AFA scored four runs in the seventh inning to pull off a wild 6-5 victory to clinch its fourth straight playoff appearance. 

On Friday, the Blue Jackets defended their district title, taking advantage of several fielding miscues to manufacture runs in a 5-1 victory over top-seeded Northside Christian in the championship game.

“A lot of people were thinking they would just wait and give us the district title next year,” AFA coach Linda Derk said. “We never thought that. These kids wanted to still be a part of the success we’ve had and keep the tradition going.” …

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Region track: Host Indian Rocks places second among boys teams

LARGO — If Thursday's Class A, Region 2 track meet was any indication, local athletes are going to fare quite well against the best athletes in Florida.

Qualifiers were plentiful in Thursday's competition held at Indian Rocks Christian, as the host Golden Eagles saw their boys squad place second as a team with 75 points, falling just behind champion St. Stephens Episcopal (89 points).

Leading the charge for IRC was James Thorpe, who exceeded even his own expectations by winning both the discus (175 feet, 2 inches) and shot put (57-2) with personal-best distances.

"This was a nice surprise," the senior said. "My goals going in were a 55-0 in the shot and 165-0 in the discus. A hard practice regime, being well rested and eating right, and the expertise of (throwing coach) Mark Dvornik made the difference."

Freshman Solomon Weller also shined for the Golden Eagles, anchoring a winning 4x800 meter effort (eight minutes, 11.40 seconds) that was almost a full minute faster than its seed time, then following with a second-place finish in the 400 (50.83).

"I do a lot of 200s in practice so I have that pace memorized," Weller said of his relay effort. "I try to chase and get results." …

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District softball: Mitchell 1, Sunlake 0 (15 innings)

TRINITY – The way the Class 7A, District 10 softball final was zipping along, it was a candidate to easily finish under the 90-minute mark. Problem is nobody could score, and in the end it went past three and a half hours.

Sunlake was convinced it should have gone on longer.

Mitchell defeated the Seahawks 1-0 on Alex Hare’s 15th-inning sacrifice fly that barely scored Julia Jerard.

“She was out,” said Cayley Gottschall, who made the strong throw from centerfield. Catcher Shelby Lansing had the ball well in time but the umpire ruled Jerard, who had doubled to lead off the inning, got around the tag.

In fact Sunlake players made #shewasout a thing, quickly and vehemently after the game.

"Our catcher thought she made the tag, but what are you gonna do? Close call. Hopefully we see them back here in two weeks,” said Sunlake coach Nelson Garcia.

The Seahawks (18-6) are headed to the playoffs for the first time, at Braden River next Wednesday.

Mitchell (21-6) will host Lennard and starting pitcher Ashley Autuori definitely needs the break in between – having thrown 185 pitches Thursday. …

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District softball: Robinson 9, Jefferson 0

TAMPA - Just when Sammy Conlan thought her night was complete, she had one more chore to do.

Conlan made sure all 13 teammates touched the game ball that Robinson coach Ed Gallio presented to her Thursday following the top-seeded Knights' 9-0 victory against No. 2 Jefferson in the Class 6A, District 8 championship game.

Conlan, a senior left-hander who will not play softball after this year to focus on veterinarian technician schooling, threw a three-hit, complete-game shutout, and drove in three runs with two singles and a double.

"It was really a big game since it's my senior year,'' Conlan said. "I'm not going to play softball at the next level, so winning district is really good.''

Conlan had plenty of help as she threw 52 of 87 pitches for strikes. Her defense handled 16 of 17 chances flawlessly, and Jefferson committed seven errors - leading to six unearned runs.

"When you start hitting the ball, you start forcing (the opponent) into mistakes,'' Gallio said. "When you're a pitcher, three-out innings are nice. With four- and five-out innings, you get tired after a while.'' …

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District softball: Wharton 9, Strawberry Crest 3

TAMPA — Above the claps and cheerful howls reverberating from inside the home dugout just a few feet away, Brittany Ewing's voice rang sharp with one clear message.

"No respect, Chloe, no respect," the Wharton coach shouted from the third-base coaching box. "Look at your outfielders."

A short way down the line, standing at the plate, Chloe Lee looked up through the clay-riddled air and saw three Strawberry Crest defenders that had crept in to play her shallow. So Lee did what Ewing requested: She made them respect her.

With the Wildcats clinging to a one-run lead in the sixth inning Thursday, the junior smacked a sharp base knock up the middle. And with two outs, she scored from third on Hana Schwindler's single to open the floodgates in a five-run frame, lifting the Wildcats to their first Class 8A, District 4 title in program history with a 9-3 romp.

"I always want them to settle down," said Ewing, her navy-gray polo shirt dampened by a celebratory postgame ice-water bath.
"They were a little bit nervous and they were letting the nerves play into it a little bit." …

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District softball: Tampa Catholic 4, Holy Names 3

CLEARWATER – Hera Varmah had two RBIs to lead Tampa Catholic to a 4-3 win against Academy of the Holy Names in the District 4A-4 championship game at Eddie C. Moore softball complex Thursday.

The Crusaders (19-8) scored three in the top of the fifth to tak a 4-0 lead. Julia Engebretson made the score 2-0 with an RBI sacrifice and Varmah followed with a two-run triple to cap off the inning. 

Academy of Holy Names (13-7), however, would not go quietly. Haley Morrell hit a one-out triple to center and scored on a single from Alexis Miniet. The next batter, Chloe Boos, reached on a throwing error but was tagged out trying to get to second.

Brittany Bramwell hit a one-out double in the bottom of the sixth but Tampa Catholic pitcher Kendall Brackin escaped damage in the inning when Gelmi Pasquier grounded out to third and Samantha Miller lined out to left to end the inning.

The Jaguars put up a final two-out rally in the ninth when Miniet had an RBI single and Boos followed with an RBI double to deep left-center to make the score 4-3.

Bracken, however, got Katie Hale to fly out to left to end the game. 

Grace Burleigh had an RBI single in the second inning for Tampa Catholic to give the Crusaders a 1-0 lead. 

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District softball: East Lake 2, Countryside 1

East Lake High School's Kendyl Crean (18), center, is handed her bat by team mate Madison Neuhaus (2) moments after hitting a home run during the sixth inning of Thursday's (4/27/17) district softball game between East Lake and Countryside High School at Countryside in Clearwater. The home run was the game winner for East Lake.

Douglas R. Clifford | Times

East Lake High School's Kendyl Crean (18), center, is handed her bat by team mate Madison Neuhaus (2) moments after hitting a home run during the sixth inning of Thursday's (4/27/17) district softball game between East Lake and Countryside High School at Countryside in Clearwater. The home run was the game winner for East Lake.

CLEARWATER – Three weeks ago, East Lake found a way to get past its biggest nemesis, beating Countryside in eight innings to snap a five-game losing streak in the series that dated to 2014. 

On Thursday, the Eagles did it again, knocking off the Cougars 2-1 in the Class 8A, District 7 championship game. This victory was even more meaningful considering East Lake had lost to its rival in the past two district finals. 

Kendyl Crean, a junior, has played a major role in those two victories over Countryside. She had a two-run double in the eighth inning that turned out to be the winning hit to beat Countryside in the regular season. 

In the district final, Crean smacked a solo homer in the sixth inning that was the difference. Both game-winning hits came on the Cougars’ field and were driven to the same spot in left-centefield. 

“Kendyl is just so clutch,” East Lake coach Kristie Delk said. 

Countryside (18-7) entered the district final on a six-game win streak. The last loss came against the Eagles three weeks ago. 

In the first inning, the Cougars took the lead on a run-scoring double by Makenzie Griffin. 

It didn’t last. 

Crean made sure of it. …

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District softball: Palm Harbor University 10, Newsome 7

PALM HARBOR – Perhaps it was the pressure of being the top-ranked team in the Tampa Bay area. Maybe it was youthful nerves. 

Whatever the reason, Palm Harbor University was uncharacteristically sloppy in the field, committing eight errors against Newsome in Thursday’s Class 9A, District 8 championship game. 

And the Hurricanes still managed to win. 

 In a wild game that saw momentum – and the lead – change seemingly every half inning, PHU found to resolve to overcome miscues in a 10-7 victory.

“This is a young team,” Hurricanes coach Kerry Katchuk said. “But they’re also pretty resilient.”

PHU (25-2) prevailed by outslugging the Wolves. Faith Allen was 4-for-4 and Mia Buffano was 2-for-2 with a home run. Both are among eight sophomores on the Hurricanes’ roster. 

Savanna Bennett is a sophomore, too. She had perhaps the game’s biggest hit, a three-run homer to centerfield in the fifth inning that PHU a 9-5 lead. Bennett’s hit drifted to the wall and bounced off the glove of Newsome’s Maggie Trgo and over the fence.  …

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State tennis: Wiregrass Ranch boys fight, fall in 4A final

Wiregrass Ranch No. 1 singles player, Noah Makarome, hits a return during the Class 4A finals against Miami Douglas on Thursday. In No. 1 doubles, which was played before the singles finals matches, Makarome and teammate Jared Abrams fell 6-4, 6-2. Heading into the singles matches, Wiregrass Ranch trailed Douglas 2-0.

Scott Purks | Special to the Times

Wiregrass Ranch No. 1 singles player, Noah Makarome, hits a return during the Class 4A finals against Miami Douglas on Thursday. In No. 1 doubles, which was played before the singles finals matches, Makarome and teammate Jared Abrams fell 6-4, 6-2. Heading into the singles matches, Wiregrass Ranch trailed Douglas 2-0.

ALTAMONTE SPRINGS — It was as much a test of endurance as it was a test of tennis Thursday on sun-baked courts at the Class 4A state championships.

After nearly eight hours of morning semifinal and afternoon final matches, Wiregrass Ranch was still slugging it out with Miami Douglas at Sanlando Park with for the title trophy.

And it was tight.

Douglas grabbed a 2-0 lead after doubles’ matches, but the Bulls mounted a gut-wrenching comeback in the five singles’ matches, putting the ultimate outcome in serious doubt.

Finally, after almost four hours of the final matches, Wiregrass succumbed 4-1, but not until after No. 5 singles player Josh Abrams won 11-9 in a tiebreaker third set and two other Bulls’ matches were basically tied.

All the matches were stopped, however, when the Bulls’ No. 2 player, freshman Kanishkh Ramesh fell 6-3, 2-6, 10-7 because that gave Douglas the four-matches victories (out of a possible seven) to seal the team title. …

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District softball: Sickles 8, Steinbrenner 2

Sickles’ record did not suggest it was primed for a playoff run. The Gryphons were 13-12 entering the Class 8A, District 5 tournament and had lost seven of their final 10 games in the regular season.

But the schedule yielded few easy nights. Sickles played every formidable opponent in the area it could find.

The result may have produced some losses but also provided quality competition, something the Gryphons strived for to get ready for the games that really mattered.

It paid off. Sickles played its best softball this week, routing Plant 8-0 in the semifinals and beating top seed Steinbrenner 8-2 in the championship game. The Gryphons are in the playoffs for the first since 2013 and won their first district title since 2002.

Sickles also snapped an eight-game losing streak to the Warriors that dated to 2014.

Kamryn Jackson had a big tournament for the Gryphons, going a combined 6-for-8 with three triples, a double and four RBIs in the two games.

In the title game, Maddie Tomas got the win and Natalie Zweig came in to finish it. Zweig had two hits, including an inside-the-park home run. Stephanie Perez had two hits and two RBIs. 

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District softball: Academy at the Lakes 2, Canterbury 1

ST. PETERSBURG – Canterbury has been the standard bearer in softball at the small school level. 

The Crusaders have won 11 straight district titles and have been to the state semifinals eight of the past nine seasons. 

Academy at the Lakes is trying to get to that level. 

The Wildcats have done some impressive things with nine straight playoff appearances. But AATL has only been to the state semifinals once during that span. 

The biggest stumbling block is getting past Canterbury, which has beaten the Wildcats in the postseason each of the past four seasons, including AATL’s lone state semifinal appearance in 2013. 

The power could be shifting. 

On Wednesday, the Wildcats beat their nemesis 2-1 in the Class 2A, District 5 championship game. It marked the first time the Crusaders did not win a district title in Jody Moore’s 12 seasons as coach of the program. 

“I have the utmost respect for Jody and what she has done with that program,” AATL coach Diane Stephenson said. “That’s where I’m trying to get with this program.” …

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District softball: East Lake 7, Pinellas Park 2; Countryside 5, Seminole 0

CLEARWATER – The rematch is set.

Top seeds East Lake and Countryside face each other again on Thursday, this time with the Class 8A, District 7 title on the line.

In Wednesday's doubleheader opener, No. 2 East Lake slowly dismantled Pinellas Park, 7-2, behind the pitching and hitting of Tori Brennan.

During the crucial part of the contest, Brennan was virtually unhittable, retiring 13 straight Patriots at one point. Brennan finished with a four-hitter, striking out one and walking none.

“Just like in the Palm Harbor tourney (a couple of weeks ago), all I could do is throw my pitches and trust that the defense has my back," Brennan said. "All of my teammates are backing me up and that really helps.”

Brennan got to pitch in at the plate as well, contributing three singles to the 10-hit attack of the Eagles (17-4, 7-2 in district play) while driving in a pair as part of four-run fourth inning.

“I haven't hit in a while,” Brennan said. “They put me in because I was doing well in practice.” …

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