EAST LAKE — East Lake allowed a blowout to turn into a nail-biter Thursday night, but holding on by any means necessary is the only thing that matters at this point.
“The bottom line is we found a way to get it done – again – and I’m thrilled about that,” Eagles coach Kristie Delk said after the 8-5 Class 7A region quarterfinal 8-5 win over Bradenton Braden River (13-14).
After East Lake went up 8-0 in two innings and looked well on its way to picking up the program’s first playoff win in three years, Braden River regrouped and began to fight back.
The Eagles sent 18 batters to the plate and took advantage of four Pirates errors in those first two frames as Braden River, which starts five freshmen and two sophomores, looked to be showing its youth. Six of East Lake’s eight runs off of starter Lexie Phelps, including all five in the second, were unearned.
Spotted with the big 8-0 advantage, Eagles starter Diana Rayder kept the Pirates off the board until an error and some control issues began to unravel her night in the fifth. The sophomore righty appeared to be working herself out of a bases-loaded jam, but a dropped fly ball in shallow started a three-run Braden River rally.
East Lake (16-8) finished with 10 hits on the night but couldn’t turn any of them into runs after the second.
Stranded baserunners ended up being a theme for both teams Thursday. East Lake (11) and Braden River (10) combined to leave 21 out on the base paths.
Things got dicey for the Eagles again in the top of the seventh when Braden River loaded the bases with no outs. Brittany Cole made it 8-4 with an RBI single and Rayder then managed to record the first out on an infield fly, but the bases were still jammed.
With the tying run now at the plate, East Lake needed to catch a break and got it from star center fielder Aliyah Andrews. Freshman Sarah Crawford blooped a run-scoring single into right-center and Bethaney Keen attempted to also score on the play, but Andrews cut her down at the plate.
“She’s a gamer,” Delk said of her sophomore center fielder and leadoff hitter. “She’s got a fractured pinky, she sprained her ankle a little bit – you just can’t keep her out of this game.”
Now with two outs and an open base rather than one and the bases loaded, Rayder got Jess McKinnon to lift a full-count fly ball to center to seal the win.
“It was really stressful,” a relieved Rayder said after her complete-game, nine-strikeout effort. “I was just trying to get through it. I’m really proud of my team. They really pulled through for me.”
If the Eagles want to keep their season going through the region semis, they’ll need to begin playing full, seven-inning games, Delk said. “We’re young so we’ve got to learn how to close the door. I feel like we set it on cruise a little bit and we can’t.”
East Lake got multi-hit nights from Emily Stafford (3-for-4, RBI) and Andrews (2-for-5, 2 R, 2 SB). Maddie Bertisch drew walks in her first three at-bats, one of which drove in a run.
Zaire Yaney sent a pair of doubles into the outfield gaps for Braden River and McKinnon went 2-for-4.
Thanks to their bracket positioning, the Eagles now get to host Tuesday’s region semifinal against District 7A-10 champion Bradenton Lakewood Ranch (21-7). The Mustangs beat Countryside 2-0 on Thursday night in Bradenton.
BR - 000 030 2 --- 5-9-4
EL - 350 000 x --- 8-10-1
WP – Diana Rayder (14-7)
LP – Lexie Phelps
Braden River (13-14)
Kally Martin – ND, 4.1 IP, 0 R, 5 H, 2 K, 2 BB – 0-for-3
Zaire Yaney – 2-for-4, R, 2 2B
Jess McKinnon – 2-for-4, 1 R, 1 2B
East Lake (16-8)
Aliyah Andrews – 2-for-5, 2 R, 2 SB – Defensive center field (4 PO, 1 A)
Emily Stafford – 3-for-4, 1 RBI
Maddie Bertisch – 0-for-1, 1 RBI, 1 R, 3 BB
Diana Rayder – W, 7.0 IP, 5 R, 2 ER, 9 H, 9 K, 6 BB, 1 HBP – 0-for-4