EAST LAKE — It might not have come in the prettiest of fashions, but East Lake put an end to its mini-slump Thursday night against district rival Countryside.
Despite committing six errors that resulted in all four of Countryside's runs, the Eagles put an end to a two-game skid and created a little separation near the top of a suddenly crowded Class 7A District 9 field.
“It's nice and it gives us momentum going into the rest of the season,” first-year East Lake coach Kristie Delk said of the win. The Eagles were coming off of back-to-back losses to Dunedin and Northeast, respectively.
“We've been working on staying relaxed and I think they did that tonight. But we just can't give those [unearned runs] up against Countryside. We're fortunate to get that win because that won't happen again. They'll make us pay for our mistakes.”
Countryside nearly did just that on Thursday.
East Lake entered the top of the seventh having just padded its lead from 4-3 to 6-3 the inning prior. But after Sam Sharpe and Sommer Pollard led off the seventh with consecutive base hits and an error in left field loaded the bases, any comfort that three-run lead provided quickly began to fade.
Sophomore pitcher Diana Rayder got Alyssa Queen to pop out, but the Eagles' sixth error of the night allowed Sharpe to score when the home-plate umpire ruled catcher Amy Smith wasn't touching the plate on a force play.
Rayder largely scattered Countryside's nine hits amidst the errors while navigating her way out of jams all night.
With the lead now cut to 6-4, senior Erin Jankiewicz at bat and the bases still packed, East Lake centerfielder Aliyah Andrews atoned for all the previous Eagles mishaps on one play. The sophomore snared Jankiewicz's fly ball then fired a strike to gun down Pollard at the plate for the game-ending, 8-2 double play.
“My heart was racing really fast,” Andrews said. “I knew I had to catch the ball first and get the out at home if I could. Then I was just trying to get a one-hopper so it didn't go over the catcher's head or anything.”
The Eagles plated their first four runs courtesy of a pair of two-run home runs. Freshman Nicci Palumbo sent a towering shot to left in the second to tie the game at 2-2, then senior Hannah Roberts' blast to center in the fifth put East Lake up 4-3. Sophomore Emily Stafford drove in the Eagles' final two runs in the sixth with a clutch two-out base hit.
While Countryside committed only a single error in the field, a handful of them on the base paths wiped away crucial scoring opportunities in a tight ballgame.
“We just have to pick it up a little bit,” said Countyside coach Kaylyn Bayly. “We have the talent on the team to do it. Unfortunately our district is pretty tough. You don't know who's going to win on any given night. It can flip-flop at any time.”
East Lake (4-3, 4-1) and Countryside (5-3, 3-2) entered the season viewed as the District 7A-9 favorites, but both find themselves looking up at surprising Northeast. The first-place and unbeaten Vikings beat East Lake and Countryside within the past week.
The Eagles and Cougars get back to action with road games on Tuesday. East Lake travels to district foe Clearwater at 4 p.m. and Countryside visits Osceola at 7 p.m.
Sam Sharpe – 2-for-3, 2 R, 1 HBP
Sommer Pollard – 2-for-4, 2 R, 1 SB
Makensie Griffin – 1-for-4, 1 RBI – Defense at SS (4 assists/1 put out)
Diana Rayder – W, 7.0 IP, 4 R, 0 ER, 9 H, 3 K, 1 BB, 1 HBP – 1-for-2, 1 R, 1 2B, 1 BB
Aliyah Andrews – 2-for-4, 1 R, 1 SB – Defense in CF (Game-winning 8-2 double play)
Nicci Palumbo – 1-for-3, 2 RBI, 1 R, 1 HR
Hannah Roberts – 1-for-3, 2 RBI, 1 R, 1 HR