VERO BEACH – Clay High’s softball girls played nearly even softball in their Class 6A semifinal against defending 6A champion Land O’Lakes High, but a single error in the third inning proved …
VERO BEACH – Clay High’s softball girls played nearly even softball in their Class 6A semifinal against defending 6A champion Land O’Lakes High, but a single error in the third inning proved fateful as Clay lost 5-0 in their state semifinal game Wed., May 23 in Vero Beach.
Land O’Lakes lost 5-1 to American Heritage, a 3-0 winner over Lake Wales, for the 6A title on Thurs., May 24. Land O’Lakes beat American Heritage 3-1 in the 2017 final.
“Take out that inning and it becomes a 1-0, 2-0 game either way,” said Clay coach Matt Lewis. “That’s championship softball; one mistake can be costly.”
Clay, advancing with a series of opportunistics hits and baserunning to defeat region opponents Paxon, Ridgeview and West Florida, came out storming on the arm of pitcher Morgan Crutcher who opened with two strikeouts on the first two Gator batters to set a tone for the Blue Devil defense.
“This team lost just two games this season to non-playoff teams,” said Lewis. “Our losses after those two are against teams that are playing in this tournament. A young team like this; just three seniors, DeNapoli, Kumpf and Stone, started clicking and meshing as a team about midseason when we completed our lineup as it stands.”
In the Blue Devils’ initial at bat, Charlotte DeNapoli got to third base on a series of errors on Land O’Lakes pitcher Callie Turner, a University of Tennessee commit, who also threw a wild pitch and had a passed ball to set the Blue Devils up in scoring position. A bunt by Marianne McDonald down the third base line got DeNapoli tagged out and Haley Stone struck out to end the inning.
“We get a break there and we score and the whole game changes,” said Lewis. “That third baseman was smart and did not forget about Charlotte being behind her. Smart play.”
The second inning went three up and three down for both teams with Crutcher getting groundouts and Turner getting two strikeouts.
In the top of the third was when disaster hit for Clay. Crutcher hit the opening batter, Brooke Stanley, who got to third on a double from Destiny Rodriguez before Stone bobbled a sharp grounder that may have made it to McDonald at shortstop and let two runs in.
Land O’Lakes batter Shelby Wesbrook would hit a sharp grounder to Stone that Stone handled before Turner smack a grounder to second base that Clay’s Ali Sarman threw to catcher Kaitlyn Kumpf for a shot a a tag out.
The ensuing call, safe at home for a third run, caused Lewis to discuss with the home plate umpire.
“We thought there was interference on the play, but, in the end, it’s championship softball and things happen quickly and the umpires are top notch,” said Lewis. “I’m still going to put my two cents in for my kids just to keep the intensity up.”
From there, Crutcher hit a second batter to load the bases before a single scored two more runs.
Turner stayed tight on the mound for Land O’Lakes but Kumpf got a single off an error between two strikeouts in the third inning.
In the fourth, Clay showed some defensive spunk after a centerfield blooper put a baserunner in place.
“We wanted to not let the game get away and I told the kids to keep playing hard,” said Lewis. “I can’t be more proud of getting there and also taking on the state champions with plenty of dignity and pride.”
A sharp grounder got misplayed by McDonald to put two baserunners in play, but Crutcher buckled down with a strikeout and then orchestrated a opportunistic sequence with a Crutcher stab at a sharp grounder that sophomore second baseman Ali Sarman snagged and and completed the out to end the inning.
“They were still fighting for a shot to keep the game close,” said Lewis. “Ali earned her start spot at second late in the season and has been one of best infielders for us.”
Land O’Lakes again got two baserunners in the top of the fifth, but a great throw to Kumpf from left fielder Delaney Anfinson nailed a scoring attempt by the Gators.
Clay would get a first walk off Turner in the bottom of the sixth; to Denapoli, to spark some juice into the Clay batting lineup, but McDaniels hit into a groundout a second base.
Clay’s final baserunner was Sydney Lewis who was hit in the helmet but Anfinson hit a flyball and Paolo Jorge-Silva struck out to end the game.