PALM HARBOR — After ending the regular season with a whimper, Palm Harbor University let out a pent-up roar Wednesday afternoon.
The second-seeded Hurricanes picked a perfect – and extremely necessary – time to snap a three-game losing streak by beating No. 3 Bradenton Manatee 12-5 and advancing to tomorrow's Class 8A District 8 championship game.
“The past three games we've scored four runs,” senior Rachel Taylor said, citing the team's recent offensive anemia. “So it's one of those things that's kind of a Palm Harbor thing: When we lose and don't score runs, we come out and explode the next game.”
Prior to delivering that long-awaited eruption, though, PHU spent the first few innings building up a little drama. The 'Canes trailed Manatee by three runs twice, first going down 3-0 in the third and then 5-2 in the fifth.
According to Taylor and pitcher Logyn Lilley, the early deficits struck the right nerve Wednesday.
“I just knew we were going to come out and score runs because we were all just so angry,” Lilley said. “We were like, 'Why are we losing 3-2 right now? We need to score runs.' ”
That added edge jolted PHU to life in the fifth. Suddenly looking a lot like the team that averaged over 11 runs a game through the season's first 10 games, the Hurricanes took the lead for good at 6-5 with their four-run, four-hit frame. The first six PHU batters reached base, capped by Brittany Lennon's 2-run base hit to right field.
“We're not a team that panics a lot,” Hurricanes coach Kerry Katchuk said. “We know we're going to get some runs when we get some good at-bats.”
Lilley, who also struck out five while earning the complete-game win from the circle, led the way offensively with a 3-for-3 day at the plate. Alayna Gallagher, Baily Wilson and Lennon each recorded two hits.
PHU shed the slump's negative mojo and broke away from Manatee for good with a six-run sixth inning.
“When you play good and know you played good, you start to feel like you can do this every game,” said Taylor, who went 1-for-2 with two RBIs and a pair of walks. “It gives us momentum and I'm glad we have that now going forward.”
In all, the 'Canes pounded out 13 hits Wednesday and ensured a 16th postseason trip in 17 years. Barring another day of inclement weather, PHU will travel to either No. 1 Sarasota Riverview or No. 4 St. Petersburg tomorrow night.
The 'Canes are looking to win their fifth district championship in six years.
Man - 003 020 0 --- 5-9-1
PHU - 002 046 x --- 12-13-2
Marriah Wise – 2-for-4, 1 R, 1 SB
Alyssa Blastic – 2-for-3, 1 RBI, 2 R, 1 HBP
Brittany Sessions – 1-for-3, 2 RBI, 1 2B, 1 BB
Palm Harbor University (17-6)
Logyn Lilley – W, 7.0 IP, 5 R, 3 ER, 9 H, 5 K, 1 BB, 2 HBP – 3-for-3, 1 RBI, 2 R, 1 BB
Katie Flanagan – 1-for-3, 2 RBI, 1 R, 3 SB
Baily Wilson – 2-for-4, 3 R, 1 BB
Brittany Lennon – 2-for-4, 3 RBI, 1 R, 1 SB