The Hernando High Leopards softball team (25-4) defeated Coral Springs Charter High School (23-4) in Clermont in the 2022 FHSAA Softball State Championships of the District 3A tournament on Wednesday afternoon by a score of 3-1. A score that does not properly reflect the closeness of this contest, the two schools were evenly matched all afternoon. The Purple and Gold downed the Panthers in extra innings at the Legends Way Ballfields to advance to the state final.
The Leopards entered the bout sporting an impressive 15-game winning streak having beaten their last 5 opponents by a combined margin of 51-2. Similarly dominant, the Panthers had won their last 11 straight matchups. Their five previous contests were even more lopsided as they had crushed their competition 61-2 over that span.
The showdown that began promptly at noon turned out to be quite the pitcher’s duel between Hernando Sophomore Ava Braswell and Coral Springs Senior Brianna Godfrey. Braswell ended the day with 7 strikeouts and the win to Godfrey’s 14 strikeouts, and the two teams traded similar results for the first four and a half innings. While either side might have registered a couple of hits, had a player walked, or got someone on base, both teams’ players were ultimately retired in short order until late in the fifth inning.
The Panthers would draw first blood. As the home team in this neutral-site matchup, Coral Springs was at bat in the bottom of the fifth. While Sophomore Outfielder Emily Barnell was struck out to start the action much like the previous innings, Freshman Catcher Heather Robertson was next up to plate. She proceeded to blast a double and then steal third on the next at bat. Godfrey would finally hit her home to open a tenuous 1-0 lead for the home team.
Hernando would escape the fifth period with just that one blemish and immediately responded with a score of their own. In the top of the sixth, Senior Outfielder Hannah Lynch got on first base by way of a walk. Following Junior Catcher Hannah Taylor’s pop fly being snagged, Junior Pitcher Savannah Ellis’ double ran Lynch home. This knotted the contested showdown at one apiece heading into the bottom of the sixth as Coral Springs quickly dealt with Hernando’s remaining batters.
After a quick and uneventful remainder of the sixth, some controversy arose in the top of the seventh. Junior Catcher Syndey Cline made it on base by way of a hit to the outfield and Junior Utility Player Aryanna Eliopoulos advanced Cline to second on a sacrifice bunt. Following Junior Outfielder Tiarra Edwards being struck out, Senior Shortstop Solaris Genberg’s short hit between second and third would lead to a tough call by the refs.
After the ball ricocheted off the infield ground, a Coral Springs player caught the ball in the baseline and threw it to first. Genberg had made it safely on base, but Cline was called out for running out of the baseline while avoiding the Panther who had stepped in her way when catching the bouncing ball. An irate Head Coach Kevin Bittinger of Hernando was forced to watch a golden opportunity in the seventh inning slip away.
A relatively quiet eighth inning gave way to a cathartic top of the ninth for the away team. After the deflating events of the seventh, the Leopards found themselves in an extremely similar scenario. Cline was back on second, Edwards was on first, and Genberg was up to bat yet again.
This time, Genberg delivered a triple and ran the two players home. Genberg would injure herself sliding into third, but she managed to tough it out on defense in the bottom of the ninth. Hernando made quick work of the final three outs to give the Leopards the 3-1 victory over the formidable Panthers.
While Coral Springs’ impressive season has reached its end, the Leopards will play in the state final against Cavalry Christian (23-6) at seven on Thursday evening.