Palm Harbor University players had been preparing for this moment for exactly 368 days.
One year and three days ago on a softball field in Plant City, PHU's playoff run came to a screeching halt; a victim of Durant High's season of destiny.
“Ever since the 27th of April 2012 this has not left our mind throughout anything we've done,” said Hurricanes pitcher Rachel Taylor, showing the black smudge of marker on her right wrist that read “4/27.”
Tuesday afternoon at Palm Harbor, Taylor and the 'Canes exacted their revenge. PHU advanced to the Class 8A region finals by breaking a scoreless tie with a run in the sixth and repelling Durant's last-ditch effort to win 1-0.
“It's just a really sweet feeling because of what happened last year,” said PHU's Jess Adams, who drove in the game-winning run. “We also did this for all our seniors last year. It was real personal. It just means the world to all of us.”
Adams came up clutch in the home half of the sixth with runners at first and second and one out. Wasting little time, Adams smoked the first pitch she saw from Durant's Paige Davis up the middle to score Torey Scott from second.
“I just felt that with a runner in scoring position I need to be aggressive and jump on her,” Adams said. “It was really a team effort because they got on base and put me in that situation.”
Seeing his senior shortstop step into the box at that moment provided plenty of confidence that the 'Canes would finally make their move, PHU coach Kerry Katchuk said. “There aren't many people in this county you'd rather have up in that situation because she's pretty clutch.”
Adams was joined by a number of teammates coming through in big moments during Tuesday's tight ballgame.
From the circle, Taylor never allowed Durant batters to get comfortable at the plate by hammering the inside corner. When the junior's day ended with two on and no one out in the top of the seventh, relief pitcher Logyn Lilley reacted by rising to the challenge.
Lilley swiftly retired the Cougars in order after moving from second to the rubber, and no out was bigger than the last. Leadoff hitter Shannon Bell stepped to the plate with three of Durant's four hits, but Lilley won the battle by popping her up to Moriah Connolly at third.
The Cougars entered Tuesday averaging over six runs per game, but failed to figure out the Taylor-Lilley combo.
“I didn't go into the game thinking I was going to shut them out,” Taylor said. “That was definitely not my intention. I had one strikeout so that meant a lot for my defense to come through for me.”
Durant managed only four hits off Taylor and the 'Canes defensive left side recorded 14 of the game's 21 outs.
“Rachel Taylor stepped up real big for us today,” Katchuk said. “She's been a little bit up and down for us, but she was pretty impressive today.”
Davis also limited PHU's potent bats to only four total hits, with two coming from Scott.
PHU now moves on to host the winner of two Orlando-based teams: 8A-5 champion Timber Creek (23-5) and 8A-5 runner-up East River. That region final will be played this Friday at 4 p.m.
Durant - 000 000 0 --- 0-4-2PHU - 000 001 x --- 1-4-0
WP – Rachel TaylorLP – Paige Davis