VERO BEACH -- Ashley Leon and Stephanie Texeira haven’t known anything but state championship success during their softball careers at Miami Gulliver Prep.
A fourth consecutive state championship is just one victory away.
Gulliver reached that spot Friday afternoon thanks not only to its veterans but also its younger players in a 7-2 victory against Starke Bradford in a Class 4A state semifinal at the Vero Beach Sports Village.
Gulliver (24-5) will play for the Class 4A state championship against Madison County on Saturday at 1:30 p.m.
“Being here all these years, I won’t say we’re used to it, but the experience helps you adapt to any situation,” Leon said.
Texeira went 3 for 3 with three RBI, including an RBI double off the left-field fence in the first inning that tied the game at 1. Leon went 2 for 4 with an RBI.
Junior Gabbee Draney, who made her first start in a state semifinal game, pitched 6 2/3 innings and gave up only two hits and one run on a solo home run in the first inning.
A pair of freshmen also came up with clutch hits for the Raiders as Jessica Rivera and Brianna Bahadue each had a hit during Gulliver’s six-run fourth inning that gave it a 7-1 lead off Bradford star pitcher Ashton Adkins, who entered the game with a 26-1 record.
“We had a good scouting report on her from our coaches, and we capitalized on the little things,” Leon said.
The game was delayed after five innings for more than an hour as a thunderstorm passed through the area.
In the top of the seventh, Texeira switched to pitcher, relieving Draney. But Bradford (28-3) scored a run and threatened for more with runners on first and third and one out.
Draney then switched back to pitcher and struck out the final two batters to finish the game.
“I just want to pick up Tex on that,” Draney said. “I have her back, and I just went in with the mentality of finishing it.”
WP: Draney (18-4). LP: Adkins.
• Class 2A state semifinal — Orlando Pine Castle Christian 19, Princeton Christian 0: Princeton Christian seemed jittery early against last year’s state runner-up, surrendering three first-inning runs on two hits and four errors. It made 10 errors in five innings.
Pine Castle Christian senior Kaley Bitterman (16-6), who pitched a perfect game, struck out the first nine batters in order — and 11 overall — before senior left fielder Christina Ortiz grounded out on a bunt in the fourth.
“I was a little bit nervous going out, but it’s mostly because you’re at a whole different level of playing back home,” said senior pitcher Courtney Cox, who fell to 14-3. “They came out ready to play. They’re an amazing team. I hope they do well next game.”
Despite having just 11 players on the team, the Panthers earned their first trip to state since 1997. The Eagles, meanwhile, have made it five times since 2006.
“When it’s stacked like that against you it’s hard, it’s tough,” coach Marcel Piz said. “My girls came to play. They were not intimidated.”
CHRISTINA DE NICOLA
WP: Kaley Bitterman (16-6). LP: Courtney Cox (14-3).