Mia Bellinghieri had a homer taken away that would have given Gulliver Prep a lead.
But four-time defending state champion Gulliver — four outs away from elimination — rallied for two late runs to defeat three-time defending state champ Delray American Heritage, 2-1, in Friday’s epic Class 4A regional final.
Gulliver (22-5) advanced to Wednesday’s state semifinals in Vero Beach against the winner between West Nassau and West Florida. The finals are Thursday.
Despite the wind blowing in, Bellinghieri blasted a ball well over the left-field fence for an apparent first-inning solo homer. But the umpire ruled that Heritage’s Kerri Stevens had fired an “illegal pitch,” which meant she was off the “width of the rubber” when she delivered.
Instead of a homer, Bellinghieri got a walk and was stranded.
“I’m small person — that doesn’t usually happen,” Bellinghieri said of what would have been just her second homer of the season. “It was once in a lifetime. Maybe I was a little mad.”
Heritage (18-11), which moved up from 3A to 4A this season, took a 1-0 lead when Alexandra Simpson sliced an opposite-field, run-scoring double to left in the third.
“It was kind of nerve-wracking when it got to the fifth,” Gulliver third baseman Jessica Rivera said of the Raiders’ one-run deficit. “We were running out of time.”
Fortunately for Gulliver, Rivera smoked a line drive over the head of the Heritage center fielder for a double to lead off the sixth. Tori Rios’ sacrifice bunt moved Rivera to third, and Gulliver tied the score on Sofia Desolo’s grounder to second.
Heritage fell apart from there, allowing a walk and a fielding error by shortstop Addison Simpson to load the bases. Gulliver’s
Crystal Garcia got the game-winning RBI on a four-pitch walk.
Gulliver’s Gabbee Draney (19-4) pitched a complete game. And the final out was recorded when Rios, Gulliver’s strong-armed catcher, gunned down a runner trying to steal second.
Now Gulliver is two wins away from a fifth straight state title, which would tie Bartow’s 2002-2006 Florida record.
Coral Reef rallied with two runs in the seventh inning to tie the game and later scored two more in the 10th inning to outlast the host Bobcats and advance to the state final four for the second consecutive season.
Coral Reef (21-8) will play either Oviedo Hagerty or Apopka Wednesday in a Class 8A state semifinal at Vero Beach.
“We have a sign in our dugout that says never quit and this team just continues to make things happen,” Coral Reef coach Dario Rodriguez said.
West Broward (19-7) twice came painfully close to a walk-off victory in the bottom of the eighth inning that would have sent it to state for the first time.
Catcher Jamie Mandy belted a pitch from Coral Reef starter Michelle Mesa that looked for a moment to be a winning home run. The ball bounced off the top of the fence and stayed in play for a double with no outs.
Mandy then reached third on a ground out and looked ready to score the winning run when pitcher Jaclyn Laiacona hit a deep fly ball to left field.
But Mandy got a late jump from third base and was thrown out at home plate by shortstop Kylan Becker on a relay throw after Cristina Colli threw the ball in quickly and on target from the outfield.
Two innings later, Coral Reef made West Broward pay for it.
With two outs and two runners in scoring position, designated hitter Alex Garcia drove a single to right to give the Barracudas the lead for good in the top of the 10th.
“This game was do or die so all I was thinking about was to get the bat on the ball and keep it going,” Garcia said.
West Broward put two runners on in the bottom half of the inning on singles by Megan Obier and Elise Calzadilla. But Mesa got Laiacona to fly out and Jessica Angel to line out to second to end the game.
“It was tough because it didn’t happen, but our team kept it together and battled,” West Broward coach Greg Hodges said. “[What happened in the eighth] could have destroyed us, but it didn’t and the kids kept on playing. You think you have it won twice. It’s just tough. You have to regroup and help the girls out.”
But Coral Reef needed a clutch at-bat in the top of the seventh to survive and send the game to extra innings.
Third baseman Carsyn Gordon delivered such an at-bat fouling off six two-strike pitches until she finally hit a liner to the right center field gap that drove in Cassandra Garcia, who had doubled earlier to score Becker also with two outs.
“I was just saying hit the ball and I didn’t even care where,” Gordon said. “Always when I play I block out everything. We came out on top of all the injuries we had and we’re going back to state. It’s amazing.”
CR 201 000 200 2 – 7 13 5
WB 400 010 000 0 – 5 14 6
WP: Michelle Mesa. LP: Jaclyn Laiacona.
The Warriors, on the strength of a dominating pitching performance from Kelli Kleis, clobbered Lake Worth Trinity Christian 11-0 in a Region 3-3A final at Lake Charleston Park in Lake Worth.
Westminster (26-3), which had lost three consecutive one-run games to Delray American Heritage in the last three regional finals, advances to its first state final four since 2009 and will take on either Tallahassee North Florida Christian or Jacksonville University Christian on May 9 at Dodgertown in Vero Beach.
“This wasn’t a monkey, this was more like a gorilla,” said Kleis who struck out 11 batters and gave up just one hit, a harmless two-out first inning single. “We’ve had a lot of heartbreak through recent years but we’ve really handled it well, stayed determined and it paid off today.”
The game was actually scoreless after the first three innings but that’s when the Warrior bats went to work and it was Caitlin Charlton that got things going for WC when she launched a towering shot over the fence in left center to lead off the top of the fourth. The Warriors went on to score on more in the fourth and then busted things open by scoring four more times in the fifth to make it 6-0. Charlton came through again with a two-RBI double to spark the inning.
“I guess it (home run) kind of got us going and sparked us,” said Charlton. “It was a great feeling to do that in such a big game. Usually once we get through a pithcher once, we figure it out and we’re on her and that’s what we did today.”
Eleven of Westminster’s 13 hits came after the third inning when they got to TC pitcher Philny Llewellyn a second time.
“We’ve been hitting the ball well this year and I kind of felt once we got around to her the second time we’d be able to start hitting the ball and that’s exactly what happened,” said Westminster head coach Scott Doan. “The home run by Kaitlin really got us going and it took off from there.”
WC 000 243 2 – 11 13 0
TC 000 000 0 – 0 1 3
WP: Kelli Kleis; LP: Philny Llewellyn. Top performers: WC – Kaitlyne Musa 2-for-4, 2 RBI; Caitlin Charlton, 2-for-3, 3 RBI, HR, 2B; Kia Benitez 2-for-4, RBI; Ally Mena 2-for-3, RBI; Victoria Perez HR.
"It's a tough loss, but these girls have done awesome this year," said Colonial coach Lou Martinez. "We made it to regional finals and the farthest this school had ever gone before was a district champions."
Colonial (10-2) is a very young softball team made up mostly of middle school students with an average player age of about 14 years old. Some starters missed the game due to injuries.
Grandview (11-7) had its best inning in the second when eight runs were scored.
Three of the runs came on a home run by Summer Burgess. It was Grandview's only home run of the game.
Fielding was a problem for Colonial. The Lady Patriots committed seven errors.
GP 2-8-4-7-x-x-x 21-12-2
CC 0-0-0-0-x-x-x 0-0-7