EAST LAKE — The team that wasn't supposed to be here nearly pulled another one off.
East Lake came up a hit or two short Tuesday night against Bradenton Lakewood Ranch, making its postseason exit with a 3-1 loss in the Class 7A region semifinals.
“I'm proud of my team,” first-year East Lake coach Kristie Delk said. “Nobody really counted us in. We just played relaxed because of that. We were the only ones that believed we could be here, so it was fun.”
The host Eagles didn't go down easy, putting the tying runners in scoring position in the bottom of the seventh before Lakewood Ranch freshman Logan Newton struck out pinch hitter Courtney Rehula to end it.
Newton earned the victory Tuesday after relieving starter Amanda Rak to start the fourth inning. “I made the decision yesterday that I was going to platoon pitch,” Mustangs coach Tony Cummins said. “[Newton's] a freshman and she came in on the biggest stage and just did a great job.”
Rak and Newton's counterpart, East Lake sophomore Diana Rayder, performed nearly as well. Rayder surrendered five hits and struck out four in the loss.
“She's a sophomore and I'll take her all day,” Delk said of her ever-improving pitcher. “I thought she got through it a lot better than she did the last game.”
After trading single runs in the third inning to opened the night's scoring, Lakewood Ranch picked up its eventual winning runs in the fifth by using a nearly identical formula to two innings prior. Freshman Denali Schappacher led off with a base hit, Talli Sharp sacrifice bunted her to second and Jacqueline Schoff drove Schappacher home with a sharply hit single to center. Schoff advanced all the way to third on Aliyah Andrew's throw to home to try and get Schappacher and crossed the plate on Madison Biggs' groundout to Ashley Bonalewicz.
Rehula and the Mustangs benefited from two big double plays in consecutive innings to keep East Lake from adding to its run total. The most impactful came in the fifth with no outs and pinch runner Mallory Lopez standing at first. Angelina Devincenzo laid down a well-placed sacrifice bunt to move Lopez to second, but after the out was made at first, Lopez dashed for third and got thrown out.
The Eagles (16-9) used a pair of doubles to pick up their lone run in the bottom of the third. Freshman second baseman Nicci Palumbo ripped a two-strike double into center, Andrews sacrificed pinch runner Emily Pierce to third and freshman catcher Amy Smith drove her in with an opposite-field double to left.
Tight games are becoming commonplace for Lakewood Ranch (22-7) as the Mustangs head to their third straight region final, Cummins said. “It was a tough game, but I think it makes the 17th or 18th game this year that we've been within two runs,” he said. “We knew that East Lake was going to come and battle and we've practiced all year long for this type of game, so it worked out well.”
Lakewood Ranch moves on to host Melbourne this Friday night in the region final.
Jacqueline Schoff – 2-for-4, 2 RBI, 1 R, 1 2B
Logan Newton – W, 4.0 IP, 0 R, 2 H, 3 K, 1 BB
Denali Schappacher – 2-for-2, 2 R, 1 Sac Bunt
Amy Smith – 1-for-3, 1 RBI, 1 2B
Diana Rayder – L, 7.0 IP, 3 R, 3 ER, 5 H, 4 K, 2 BB
Nicci Palumbo – 1-for-2, 1 2B