VERO BEACH -- Expectations weren’t as high for defending Class 6A state champion Pembroke Pines Charter heading into its sixth state appearance during the past decade.
Not after senior second baseman Victoria Gonzalez, who hit the game-winning home run in last year’s final, tore her MCL in the regional final. Relegated to the dugout on crutches, her teammates took the field with her number etched on their helmets and athletic tape on their arms.
Freshman left-hander Claire Blount worked out of several jams and scored the go-ahead run in the fourth as the Jaguars earned a 4-2 victory over Gainesville in theClass 6A state semifinals at Vero Beach Sports Village.
Pines Charter (21-3) will face Lake City’s Columbia (27-4) for the championship at 4:35 p.m. Saturday.
“I think we’ve exceeded our expectations,” Charter coach Tom Fadul said. “It’s a good feeling; now we just need to play our best ball [Saturday].
“We lost our leader last week, and it’s tough. … She can change the score of the ball game with one at-bat.”
Gainesville (20-9) brought the go-ahead run — represented by junior right fielder Ashton Davis — to the plate in the seventh, but Blount (17-3) got Davis to line out to end the game.
The Hurricanes stranded 10 runners, including five in the first two innings.
“Usually after the first inning, I’m good — I’m settled in — but this was a stressful game,” said Blount, who scattered seven hits, walked three and struck out two. “This team every inning had a hit or jumped out as confident batters.
“There wasn’t a lull in the lineup. I had to be strong all nine batters.”
The Jaguars scored three two-out runs in the fourth to take a lead they wouldn’t relinquish.
Junior right fielder Bridget Blount drove in her younger sister, who singled to left with one out, advanced to second on an errant throw to the pitcher and moved to third on a groundout to third.
A throwing error by the shortstop put runners at second and third for sophomore left fielder Annette Rotunno, who beat out an infield hit for an RBI. Junior catcher Jamie Gonzalez scored on the second poor throw from the catcher to left-hander Katie Chronister in between pitches.
“It was big,” said Bridget Blount, who went 1 for 3. “It felt good because I’ve been in a slump. It was nice to hit and help out.”
“It feels like an accomplishment because everybody thought we couldn’t do it again, especially with somebody hurt who’s supposed to be our best player. They think we can’t do it without her, but we’ve proved them wrong.”
WP: Claire Blount (17-3). LP: Katie Chronister (6-6).