Everyone knew that going into last week’s Class 6A, District 8 softball playoffs that one very good team would be left behind come state playoff time.
How good? Three of the top 10 Class 6A teams in the state, according to the Miracle Sports April 15 poll — Lake Wales, Lake Region and Auburndale — were part of the district showdown.
Lake Wales, somewhat surprisingly, was ranked No. 3 in the state poll, while Lake Region was ranked, sixth, despite the fact the Lady Thunder was 2-0 against the Lady Highlanders during the spring season.
Make that 3-0.
The Higlanders, defending state Class 5A champions, were knocked out of district play in the semi-finals last Thursday, managing just two hits in a 4-0 loss to Lake Region, ending the Lake Wales season with a still-impressive 20-5 record, but with little else to show for their efforts.
The Highlanders entered the districts as the No. 3 seed; Lake Region was the No. 1 seed and Auburndale, who split a pair of regular season games with Lake Wales, was No. 2. The event went true to form with the Lady Thunder topping the Bloodhounds for their district championship.
“We’re in the toughest district in the state, any classification,” Coach Nancy Denton said. “There’s just three solid teams in this district, and someone isn’t going to advance. They’re a great team. — you can’t take anything from them — with a great pitcher.”
That would be Haley Wiseman, and although the Lady Highlander were able to get their bats on the ball with more frequency than earlier in the year against her, there were either lots of foul balls or fly outs.
“The first two games we played them, we had a lot of strikeouts, but just four tonight, so we had a mission. We did everything we asked them to,” Denton said of her Lady Highlanders. “We just had too much air under the ball or the wind held them up. We had a lot of hard hit balls, but they were outs.”
Although they were far from great scoring opportunities, the Lady Highlanders got base runners in both the first and fourth innings, a single in the first and a walk in the fourth from Jamesia Stoudemire. Her free pass came as the lead off batter in the fourth. However, she was thrown out trying to steal on a close play at second.
That potential run might have turned the tables, Denton thought.
“You get that first run, it pumps the kids up, and the kids start feeling it, and they start seeing the ball better,” she noted.
Lake Wales pitcher Susan Hinks, a transfer from Lake Region, began as though she might not allow a Lady Thunder batter to reach, retiring nine in a row to start the game, seven of them on strikeouts.
She also finished by retiring six of the final seven batters she faced.
But a fateful bottom of the fourth was enough to undo the Lady Highlanders hopes. Lake Region parlayed a double, three singles and two walks into the only four runs of the game.
“Susan pitched a fantastic game, except for that one inning. She owned them for three innings,” Denton noted.
The Lady Highlanders best threat came in the sixth. Taite Powell worked a two-out walk, and was advanced to third on a single by Stoudemire, who had the only two Lake Wales hits of the game. However, a foul out ended the scoring chance, and the hosts went down in order in the top of the seventh to bring their season to an abrupt close.