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Leopards Fall Short During Softball Tournament

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When the Leopard Slam softball tournament tipped off on Friday morning at Tom Varn Park, the Hernando Leopards (3-16) were up first. The Purple and Gold found themselves starting off the action against the Venice Indians (9-6) in the local stadium that is currently under construction. The other in-county participant featured at the competition, Nature Coast (8-10) faced a pair of opponents later that morning into the afternoon.

While the tournament did not go the local squads’ ways, the Leopards and Sharks kept their first games close while their later games went less smoothly. The Bloomingdale Bulls (18-0) would ultimately take home the top spot overall with a 6-5 victory over the Indians in Saturday’s finale.

Head Coach Kevin Bittinger and company got off to a hot start in game one with a pair of runs in the initial inning before the game turned into a back-and-forth affair that led to an 8-5 Indians victory. The next one and half frames went quickly before Junior Raionna Smith’s deep double to the fence ran Junior Ashlyn Weishaar home in the bottom of the second. Things started to go sideways in a hurry as Venice loaded the bases. Coach Bittinger smartly took a moment to discuss strategy with Senior Pitcher Ava Braswell in this pivotal moment.

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Hernando High pitcher, 6, Ava Braswell winds into a pitch against Venice High during the Leopard Slam tournament at Tom Varn Park. [Photo by Joe DiCristofalo]
Hernando High pitcher, 6, Ava Braswell winds into a pitch against Venice High during the Leopard Slam tournament at Tom Varn Park. [Photo by Joe DiCristofalo]
It was to no avail, though, as two at-bats later, Ducks Junior Kaylin Smith’s triple would run Raionna Smith, Sophomore Myah Purdy, and Senior Zoey Lynn across the plate. Hernando suddenly faced a two-run deficit heading into the third. Freshman Murphi Blade’s double would cut Venice’s advantage in half, but another deep Smith double would help to spell doom for the Leopards when the ball bounced in and out the hand of Senior Ariana Covell in the outfield.

This gave the Indians the 5-3 lead. With his team nursing a 6-5 lead later in the matchup, Coach Steve Constantino’s group scored a pair of insurance runs across the fifth and sixth innings. These were necessary as the Purple and Gold had tacked on a pair of runs thanks in part to an error at third base in the top of the fourth. Leopards Junior Shyann Lynch had stepped up to the plate and caught a piece of the ball with her bat before Venice botched the attempted throw to third. Freshman Lillian Jernigan proceeded to round the corner and stole home as Hernando tried to close the gap.

Following another RBI late by Sophomores Miley Mayer and Molly Sullivan respectively, Coach Constantino’s pitcher and defense retired three Hernando batters in a row in the top of the final frame to win game one of the tournament. Coach Bittinger spoke after the game of his team’s performance on day one:

“I thought the girls played hard but had a few things go the other way,” Coach Bittinger said. “It has been a tough season, but the kids continue to work hard and hopefully we can get things turned around. This tournament and the remainder of the season our focus is 100 percent on improving and getting prepared for district. If we can get some things fixed, we might have a chance to make a run.”

The Leopards then went on to play the Mitchell Mustangs soon after on Friday. The Purple and Gold would fall to the visitors from New Port Richey by a margin of 6-4 before succumbing again to the River Ridge Royal Knights 7-1 and the Sickles Gryphons 11-1 on Saturday. Coach Bittinger’s squad will look to start getting things turned around next week when they take on the Citrus Hurricanes on Wednesday.

Hernando High right fielder Shyann Lynch had this sinking line drive narrowly elude her grasp early in the opening game of the Leopard Slam tournament at Tom Varn Park. [Photo by Joe DiCristofalo]
Hernando High right fielder Shyann Lynch had this sinking line drive narrowly elude her grasp early in the opening game of the Leopard Slam tournament at Tom Varn Park. [Photo by Joe DiCristofalo]
Hernando High’s Ava Braswell makes contact in the game versus Venice High during the Leopard Slam tournament at Tom Varn Park. [Photo by Joe DiCristofalo]
Hernando High’s Ava Braswell makes contact in the game versus Venice High during the Leopard Slam tournament at Tom Varn Park. [Photo by Joe DiCristofalo]
Venice High shortstop Tatiana Vasquez snared a line drive off a Hernando High bat in the opening game of the Leopard Slam tournament at Tom Varn Park. [Photo by Joe DiCristofalo]
Venice High shortstop Tatiana Vasquez snared a line drive off a Hernando High bat in the opening game of the Leopard Slam tournament at Tom Varn Park. [Photo by Joe DiCristofalo]
Hernando High’s Carmen Edwards squares to bunt in the game with Venice High at Tom Varn Park. [Photo by Joe DiCristofalo]
Hernando High’s Carmen Edwards squares to bunt in the game with Venice High at Tom Varn Park. [Photo by Joe DiCristofalo]
Hernando High’s Miley Mayer gets tagged out at home in the loss to Venice High in the Leopard Slam tournament at Tom Varn Park. [Photo by Joe DiCristofalo]
Hernando High’s Miley Mayer gets tagged out at home in the loss to Venice High in the Leopard Slam tournament at Tom Varn Park. [Photo by Joe DiCristofalo]

Austyn Szempruch
Austyn Szempruch
Austyn Szempruch is a Graduate with Distinction, University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. He's written numerous articles reporting on Florida Gators football, basketball, and soccer teams; the sports of rugby, basketball, professional baseball, hockey, and the NFL Draft. Prior to Hernando Sun he was a contributor to ESPN, Gainesville, FL and Gator Country Multimedia, Inc. in Gainesville, FL, and Stadium Gale.
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