With a total of eight state championships between them, it was a matchup of Broward County’s royalty in girls softball Tuesday night when undefeated defending state champion St. Thomas Aquinas hosted Plantation American Heritage.
And in the end, a classic pitching battle came down to an unearned run in the top of the sixth that proved to be the difference as Heritage knocked off the Raiders 1-0. The loss ended a 22-game winning streak for Aquinas (17-1), ranked No. 1 in the state and the Miami Herald Top 10 poll and No. 5 nationally by Max Preps, dating to a district championship game loss to Cooper City nearly a year ago.
“Just a terrific game between two great teams,” said Heritage coach Marty Cooper, whose team, ranked No. 3 in the Herald poll, improved to 16-3. “Hey, they’re undefeated and the defending state champions so it really was a game we were looking forward to tonight. We had already played them at the Slamfest [a 2-1 loss last month] and have played a brutal schedule this year which is what will really prepare us later on when the playoffs get here. The last two years we’ve played this team four times, which is great for us and I’m sure just as good for them.”
The game-deciding run came when, with two outs and the bases loaded, left fielder Melissa Rini laced a line shot up the middle to score Sydney Behr from third. Even though Ashley Belans was cut down at home trying to score from second on the play, the Patriots, and pitcher Jenna Goodrich, who relieved starter Madison Canby in the fifth, had the only run they would need.
“I was just looking to find a way to get the bat on the ball and hit it somewhere, and I managed to hit one right up the middle,” Rini said. “I didn’t really think about the pressure, I just wanted to find a way to help my team out.”
Behr reached first after a one-out error at shortstop, one of three the Raiders would commit on the evening and, after Belars put down a perfect sacrifice bunt that she wound up beating out for a hit, the rally was on.
After Aquinas pitcher Meghan King, a University of Maryland commit, struck out Lauren Newmark for the second out, she thought she had taken down Gianna Arrizurieta with a close pitch on a 3-2 count that would have ended the inning but didn’t get the call sending Arrizurieta down to first. Rini then drilled King’s second pitch into center field for the eventual game-winner.
The key moment for Goodrich and her teammates came in the sixth when Aquinas’ Brianna Stella led off and reached first on a error at first base, Heritage’s only miscue of the night.
After a strikeout, she issued a one-out walk to Gwen Svekis and went 3-1 with the next hitter, Rachel Collins. That’s when she bared down and went to her go-to pitch, the changeup. She battled back to strike out Collins with two changeups and then took down Taylor Hishon with the same pitch to end the inning.
“The changeup is definitely my go-to pitch, and it really got me out of the jam right there for sure,” Goodrich said. “This was a very big game for us tonight. Our goal was to try and put as many balls in play as we could and force them to make defensive plays because Meghan King’s a great pitcher and it was a real challenge for us.”