By Andy Villamarzo
Hernando Sun sports contributor
Hernando High School Athletic Director Mark Lee recorded Hernando’s epic semi final comeback week:
“The Lady Leopards gave a great example of never giving up today in their quest to win a state title. The purple and gold were down 8-2 heading into the fifth inning when what can possibly be the greatest comeback in softball history with the season on the line as Hernando’s never say die attitude put the purple and gold in the state championship game with a 9-8 victory over American Heritage High School. The momentum began to shift to the Lady Leopards when centerfielder Hannah Lynch threw out a runner at the plate to end the fourth inning. The next inning, Savannah Ellis got her third hit of the game and second RBI of the game to make it a 8-3 score.
“The Leopards defense then turned it up a notch as Lynch threw out another runner attempting to stretch a single into a double to get the first out of the inning. Olivia Townsend, on the mound in relief, settled in and got the American Heritage hitters out, one by strikeout on a nasty change-up pitch. The Lady Leopards then were able to manage to score three runs in the 6th inning to make it an 8-6 score. The cardiac kids were able to get a run in the seventh to make it 8-7 score with key base hits by pinch hitters Kayla Grant and Carmen Edwards. With two runners on and two outs in the game, Solaris Genberg rose to the challenge and displayed her clutch hitting ability smashing a two-run triple to give the Lady Leopards a 9-8 lead. The was the first lead since the third inning for Hernando, which opened the game with a two-run first inning and watched the lead slip away with American Heritage scoring a run in the second, five in the third inning and two in the fourth inning making it a 8-2 deficit. Townsend’s pitching in the seventh, retiring the Patriots and putting the Leopards in the state championship game against Eustis High School with a 4:30 start time Friday at Legends Stadium in Clermont.
“Townsend pitched 4 1/3 innings striking out six. Ellis continued her hot bat going 3-4 on the night with two RBI’s. Genberg also had two hits on the night with the game inning triple being the highlight.
“Coach Kevin Bittinger was happy about the never say die attitude and their ability to claw away to victory, “The girls showed such a strong sense of belief and resiliency. They never gave up and kept after it. I couldn’t be more proud as I am of this group of girls. We talked about belonging before the game and I believe the girls showed to everyone that they absolutely belong to be playing with the best teams in the state. I know several girls stepped up when given an opportunity but this was a true team win.”
Then it came down to the final game of the season in the Class 4A state championship game between Hernando and Eustis last weekend in Clermont.
Both teams had strong fan support, with each club being in close proximity of where the title game was being held. Coming off an exciting past couple of finishes versus Lake Region and Plantation American Heritage, the state title game ended with not much drama but dominance.
Eustis, which had only lost one game all season long, dominated the state championship and rolled to a 5-0 win over Hernando. The Leopards finish their historic run with a record of 26-5 and as the Class 4A runners up. The Panthers were a force all season long, out-scoring opponents 222-16 through 28 games.
The only loss Eustis had all season long was a 5-4 decision against Winter Springs on March 11th. Other than that, the Panthers exuded dominance versus most teams on a nightly basis. They only yielded two runs throughout their entire playoff run in Class 4A and that continued on Saturday.
The big innings that ended up hurting Hernando the most were the second and third frames, as that’s where the five runs culminated from. Eustis scored four runs in the second and tacked on another in the third inning and that’s all they needed to roll on to a state crown. Errors were a big problem for Hernando, as they committed three of them on the day.
For a team that averaged nearly 10 hits a game, the Leopards’ bats remained eerily quiet. Hernando had 304 total hits on the season, but were only able to muster up two against the Panthers. The combination of mistakes and hits left very little room for error.
Despite the state championship loss, this Hernando team should find themselves back in the mix for the Class 4A state championship. The Leopards will only graduate one senior out of the 18 players they have on the roster. Hernando had themselves a very young team as eight freshmen were listed on the roster.
Andy Villamarzo can be reached at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @avillamarzo.