Sometimes it can be the least likely people to come through in the biggest moments.
On Friday afternoon, it was Palmetto’s Carly Herskowitz, the No. 9 hitter in the lineup, who came through when it counted most.
With runners on first and second and two outs and her team locked in a tie with American and a berth to the state final four on the line, Herskowitz lined a shot down the left-field line that scored the tie-breaking run and paved the way for what turned into a lopsided 12-1 victory for the Panthers in a Region 4-9A final at American High School.
With the win Palmetto punched its ticket to the state final four for the first time since 2012 and will travel to Dodgertown in Vero Beach next week to take on either Tampa Alonso or Orlando Timber Creek on May 6. Palmetto (25-4) will be looking for its fourth state title and first since 2008.
American (19-10), which was making only its second appearance in a regional final and first since 1989, was trying to become the first team north of Flagler street to advance to the large school final four since Jackson in 1991.
“That’s why I keep her there,” Palmetto coach Emilio Exposito said of Herskowitz. “Sometimes pitchers might not treat the No. 9 hitter the same way they treat the top of the lineup but she can hit the ball and came through for us in that moment [Friday] like she has many times before.”
With runners on second and third, Hannah Burge, Palmetto’s leadoff hitter, came up and then slapped a base hit to right scoring two more to make it 4-1 and gave Palmetto pitcher Brittney Barczak all the room she needed.
“It was a big moment and I was just looking for a good pitch that I could drive somewhere,” Herskowitz said. “She threw me an inside pitch and I just drove it. What a rush.”
A combination of afternoon heat and a sore finger on pitcher Ashley Alfonso’s pitching hand from trying to field a ground ball in the fifth inning led to an eight-run Palmetto seventh as the Panthers sent 12 batters to the plate.
“This was a tough one [Friday] and never will you see a more deceiving final score,” Expositio said. “American is a very well-coached team and we came in here knowing that it might be a really tough game and it played out that way. We just managed to open things up at the end and make those last three outs pretty stress-free.”
Alfonso and Barczak were locked in a scoreless pitchers duel into the fifth when the Panthers took the lead. With the bases loaded and two outs, Amanda Guglietta hit a sharp grounder back to Alfonso and the ball glanced off her throwing hand for an infield single.
Barczak, who retired the first 11 Patriots batters she faced, lost her 1-0 lead in the last of the fifth. With Keianna Williams on second and two outs, Ashley Alonso hit a drive to right center that Burge, the center fielder, dove for but couldn’t bring in, allowing Williams to score.
“I really wasn’t expecting it to be this close and to be honest I was pretty worried out there in the fifth inning,” said Barczak, who was on the mound when Palmetto beat American 8-1 in the GMAC final. “But I had confidence in my offense that they would find a way to score some runs, and they sure did manage to do that in the last two innings. I never thought I’d take the mound in the last inning with an 11-run lead.”
Said Exposito: “This was the last chance at state for all of our seniors and I didn’t want to watch them close out their career without getting that opportunity. It’s been a frustrating few years losing to Coral Reef [three consecutive regional semifinal losses] so now we want to take advantage of our opportunity a bring a title home.”
Region 4-8A Final — St. Thomas Aquinas 5, Cooper City 0: St. Thomas Aquinas softball coach Bryan Baucom was handed a banner by the team mom as he went to talk to his girls in left field following his team’s win over Cooper City in a Region 4-8A final at St. Thomas Aquinas High School.
He opened up the banner facing his girls, which read: “Will you go to Vero with me?”
The play on words for “will you go to prom with me?” brought out high-fives and yells from his girls as they celebrated their win over the Cowboys (18-10), which clinched their fourth consecutive trip to the state final four in Dodgertown in Vero Beach next week.
The Raiders (22-4), who sill harbor bitter memories of a close loss to Sarasota in last year’s state semifinals that cost them a shot at a third consecutive state title, will take on either Riverview or Clearwater Countryside in a state semifinal on May 6.
“I’m not going to prom with them but they’re sure going up to Vero Beach with me,” a smiling Baucom said. “We haven’t really talked too much about the Sarasota loss specifically all season, only mentioned in the light of ‘unfinished business’ so now hopefully they can finish it this time like they did the previous two years.”
The Raiders punched their ticked to Vero again on the strength of a strong pitching performance from Brooke Stock and some timely hitting.
Stock, who will attend Babson College in Boston in the fall, pitched a complete-game, three-hit shutout against the Cowboys while striking out nine and walking just three.
“Everything was working for me on the mound and really felt like I had everything under control all night,” Stock said. “That Sarasota loss last year still stings with us and now we want to get back up there and get it back again, and it would be great for all of our seniors, including myself, to take it out with another title.”
Region 3-9A Final — Western 2, Jupiter 1:Two runs in the fifth were all host Western (23-6) needed to advance past Jupiter (25-3) to the state semifinal. The Wildcats had not been to state since 2003.
“We really had to push through because at this point the teams get a lot more competitive,” said senior pitcher Sydney Bates, who is committed to play for Florida State next year.
The two-run fifth inning was sparked when Katie Fletcher led off with a solo home run to left-center field. A double by Madi Napoles drove in the go-ahead run.
Jupiter scored its lone run in the fourth on a Western throwing error to third base.
Western will face Spruce Creek or West Orange in state semifinal in Vero Beach on May 6.
WP: Sydney Bates (20-3) LP: Ally Costa (24-4). Katie Fletcher 1-2, HR.
Region 4-5A Final - Coral Springs Charter 11, Gulliver 1: Pitcher Ally Muraskin had 11 strikeouts and allowed one hit in five innings of Coral Springs Charter’s victory over Gulliver.
Muraskin also combined to hit back-to-back home runs with Gianna Boccagno in the fifth inning, sending the Panthers back to state.
“I hit the first one and I knew my catcher was coming up right behind me,” Muraskin said. “I knew she had the power to do it. We were all hyped. Going back to states is unreal. The goal is a two-peat and we are working our way there and going at it every day.”
Skylar Fairchild was 2 for 4 with an RBI and Amanda Flynn was 2 for 4 with two RBI in the victory.
WP: Ally Muraskin 5 IP, 1 H, 11 K, 1 R. Muraskin 2-4, HR, 3 RBI. Amanda Flynn 2-4, 2 RBI. Skylar Fairchild 2-4, RBI. Gianna Boccagno 1-2, HR, RBI. CSC 24-3, G 18-9.