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Sharks Stumble but Show Grit at Leopard Slam Tourney

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Alongside Hernando, Nature Coast Tech (8-10) took place in the Leopard Slam softball tournament over the weekend. Just as the Leopards’ game was winding down on Friday, the Sharks were beginning play a hop, skip, and a jump away at the local park’s second softball diamond.

The matchup between the Sharks and the Cornerstone Charter Academy Ducks (13-3) was a much more defensive affair than Hernando’s, and extra innings were needed to decide this outcome. Pitchers Bekah Mitchell and Mia Rosario were dealing for the Ducks, but Sharks Head Coach Jug Olmstead’s defense was lights out with his offense responding when necessary.

“I do not think we could have played any better – well maybe a little bit better, we could have won,” Coach Olmstead said. “If [Charter] is not in the state championship in 2A classification, I would be shocked. They are solid one through nine, two really strong pitchers. We came out with a lot of energy, played great defense, pitching was solid, got some timely hits, just came up a little bit short. I could not be more pleased to be honest with you.”

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Neither team scored until the third quarter when the Ducks got on the board thanks to a Sophomore Kenzie Boisvert single that ran eighth grader Yami Cordova home. Though Cornerstone took the contest, they would only score once more during regulation on Friday by way of Senior Naya Rosario’s double in the sixth. This was thanks in large part to Leopards’ Senior CF Kenzie Eland’s heroics throughout the morning and afternoon. She made various leaping and diving catches over her head as well as a key hit in the seventh inning that led to a game tying score. Her performance gained the senior praise from her head coach after the game.

Nature Coast Tech centerfielder Kenzie Eland, 11, runs under a deep line drive in the Shark’s opening round extra inning loss to Cornerstone Charter Academy in the Leopard Slam tournament at Tom Varn Park. [Photo by Joe DiCristofalo]
Nature Coast Tech centerfielder Kenzie Eland, 11, runs under a deep line drive in the Shark’s opening round extra inning loss to Cornerstone Charter Academy in the Leopard Slam tournament at Tom Varn Park. [Photo by Joe DiCristofalo]
“[Kenzie] made five plays out there, and I have coached baseball and softball for a long, long time. I have never had an outfielder make four of those plays like she did,” said Coach Olmstead. “They were incredible, really solid. She has come a long way since she was a ninth grader. That is why she is getting a full scholarship to Seminole State. She has really done a great job. That was fantastic effort on her part out there.”

Despite Eland’s impressive showing, Charter’s duo of pitchers dealt a dozen strikeouts while allowing just two runs. After narrowly pulling out the victory before giving up the game tying score to Nature Coast in the bottom of the seventh, the Ducks flipped the script in extra innings. Facing loaded bases with no outs in the bottom of the eight, Mitchell operated masterfully from the bump as she saved the Ducks from an extremely precarious situation. The team from Belle Isle would finally record the game winning score off the bat of Junior Olivia Nogueras in the next frame to take the matchup in nine innings.

Later that afternoon, the Sharks would be pitted against the River Ridge Royal Knights (11-7), who shut them out 6-0 on Friday. Though the Sharks’ head coach sees improvement, he acknowledged after the matchup with Cornerstone that they are still finding ways to get bats to the ball. The Mitchell Mustangs and the Sunlake Seahawks were next up, and the team in Columbia Blue did not fare well against either squad. The Sharks would surrender 18 runs while mustering only 2 as they fell to both squads in the second and final day of the competition. The Bloomingdale Bulls (18-0), on the other hand, would remain perfect with a 6-5 win over the Venice Indians in the tournament championship on Saturday.

“We are getting better and better,” Coach Olmstead said. “We played a really tough schedule, and we got a tough road ahead of us […] Got to stay together and keep things close. We are not the hitting team that we have been in the past. So, we kind of have to manufacture a little bit more, but I am real happy where we are at. We struck out a few times [against Charter], but those were two real quality pitchers. Got to get the bat on the ball a little bit more and we will be fine.”

 

Nature Coast Tech’s Caitlin Corrigan gets tagged by Cornerstone Charter Academy shortstop ,00, Yami Cordova in the Leopard Slam tournament at Tom Varn Park. [Photo by Joe DiCristofalo]
Nature Coast Tech’s Caitlin Corrigan gets tagged by Cornerstone Charter Academy shortstop ,00, Yami Cordova 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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