Hernando makes statement, knocks off Nature Coast for district title

Photography by Cheryl Clanton

BROOKSVILLE – Over the past two seasons, much of the local prep softball discussion has centered around two programs, Springstead and Nature Coast.
After all, those two teams did win district titles and advance to the Elite Eight a year ago, and they’ve met in back-to-back Leopard Slam finals.
Quietly, though, Hernando has built a case for belonging in that same class, and on Thursday night on the Lady Sharks’ home field they cemented that claim, defeating the top-seeded Lady Sharks in the Class 5A, District 7 championship game, 4-0.
“You ask the girls, we feel like we are better,” Hernando head coach Kevin Bittinger said. “They’ve (the Lady Sharks) got a lot of experience, they’ve got a four-year starter all over the place. The center fielder (Chayse Skinner) might be the best hitter in the area. Top to bottom, we were confident that we could come in and win a district tournament if we executed.
“Defensively the girls showed up. We hit the ball hard. I think we left a few runs out there. But the girls played a good game and they deserved this. They’ve worked hard.”
That the second-seeded Lady Leopards (19-9) would win on Nature Coast’s (19-8) home turf was hardly unprecedented considering they had done so on March 30, scoring three times in the top of the seventh to rally for a 3-2 victory.
This time around, after stranding runners on second in each of the first two innings, Hernando broke through in the top of the third. Josey Sims singled to lead off and Taliyah Dowdell walked after a sacrifice bunt by Karli Kimbrough.
That set the table for cleanup hitter Kaylee Frascatore, who dropped a two-run single just inside the left-field line. Two innings later, Frascatore struck again, smacking a home run to left-center that also plated Dowdell, who doubled.
“I was just looking for singles,” Frascatore said. “It felt good to score the first two runs and then hit the home run and score the next two. Definitely was a big night tonight.
“I think (the first two runs) set our tone, because we definitely came to play tonight. But it for sure made us relax a little bit more and get some jitters out, and just come ready to play.”
Hernando's Kaylee Frascatore gets set in the batter's box against Nature Coast in the 5A-7 final. Photo by Cheryl Clanton

Dowell, Frascatore and Ali Shenefield all had two hits, part of a 10-hit performance for the Lady Leopards.
“I know the girls were nervous coming in, but again they were confident,” Bittinger said. “We talked about their approach at the plate. I thought they were solid; they were early and anxious a few times, but all together.
“And it’s not just one or two kids that carried the load tonight. I think the bottom of the lineup put the ball in play, hit the ball hard. Top of the lineup did a great job. When asked to bunt, we moved runners.”
Defensively, the play of the game came in the bottom of the third. Nature Coast had runners on first and second with two outs and appeared to have a shot at tying the score when Abby Marshall hit a line drive to the gap in right-center. However, speedy right fielder Nakayla Roberts made a fine running catch to preserve the lead.
Meanwhile, Shenefield was masterful on the mound. The sophomore tossed a complete-game shutout, giving up five hits and a walk over seven innings, striking out three.
“She’s a sophomore, she’s gritty. She doesn’t blow anybody away. She doesn’t have that quote-unquote star power. We’ve said it all year, she just goes to work,” Bittinger said. “She carried us this week. She said, ‘Jump on the back girls, we got it.’
“The kid can pitch. She’s a gamer. I certainly hope people start giving her the attention she deserves.”
Nature Coast third baseman Alanis Berrios winds up to throw to first on a Josey Sims bunt. Photo by Cheryl Clanton

What particularly stood out to the coach and Shenefield was holding Skinner, who came in hitting .437, to an 0-for-4 night, though Skinner did reach once on an error.
“Going against Chayse (Skinner) four times, that makes me kind of nervous. But I was happy that I could get her out. I had my defense to back me up,” Shenefield said. “Make sure that my spins were working and it was just staying away from where their bat was.”
While the Lady Sharks will now have to travel to face Orlando-Bishop Moore Catholic in Wednesday’s regional quarterfinals, the Lady Leopards get to host Port Orange-Atlantic at Tom Varn Park.
“It’s huge. We play good softball at Tom Varn Park. That’s where the girls, they grew up playing there. They’re comfortable playing there,” Bittinger said. “It was huge to win the game.”
Follow Chris Bernhardt Jr. on Twitter @cpbernhardtjr.

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