If Land O’Lakes was looking for some measure of revenge against American Heritage in Saturday’s state softball championship game, well, the Gators got it.
The Gators bounced back from a sixth-inning deficit and made up for last year’s scoreless loss to Heritage in the state semifinals by taking the Class 6A title with a 3-1 win at Dodgertown.
American Heritage was looking to add onto its Broward-leading seven state championships and win for the second consecutive year.
The Patriots remain third in state softball history with seven titles behind Naples (10) and Bartow (eight).
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Of the five South Florida teams to travel to the state finals, only Coral Springs Charter and Westminster Christian returned with titles.
“It was a great game; two kids pitched really great,” said coach Marty Cooper, whose team took a 1-0 lead in the top of the sixth only to see Land O’Lakes rally in the bottom of the frame with three runs. “I’ve always said the team which makes more mistakes loses. Well, we made more mistakes. Hey, it happens.”
Last year the Patriots beat the Gators 5-0 in a semifinal game before beating Panama City’s Arnold in the final.
This year was a tad different.
In 2016, the Patriots got to Land O’Lakes ace Shannon Saile, who is now pitching for FIU.
Saile, named the Conference USA Freshman of the Year this season, was replaced in the Land O’Lakes circle by Tennessee commit Callie Turner.
The sophomore held the Patriots in check for much of the day, not giving up much until Heritage got something going in the sixth.
With one out, Jordyn Griffith took a rare walk and moved to second on a bunt from Katherine Rodriguez. Marisa Soterakis then laced a shot into right field, scoring the only run the Patriots would get.
In the bottom of the inning, Land O’Lakes — whose principal Ric Mellin is a North Miami High grad — turned the table on the Patriots and pitcher Julia Grobman.
With one out, Lexi Turner grounded to third but Hannah Sipos’ throw home hit pinch-runner Destiny Rodriguez in the back as she slid home with the game-tying run.
“If we have a better throwing lane,” Cooper lamented, “there’s two outs and it’s a different inning.”
Maybe a different game.
Instead, Grobman gave Shelby Westbrook a free pass to load the bases; pinch-runner Justine Daniels sprinted home on Grobman’s wild pitch to make it a 2-1 game.
A single by Tia Williams made it 3-1 and that was about that. Amelia Saviskas came in and got out of the jam, but the damage was done.
“It’s disappointing for the seniors,” said Cooper, whose players who spent four years at Heritage went to the state title game each season.
“They’re a good group who have worked hard for many years at Heritage. I told them there’s another game ... it doesn’t stop. Be disappointed, but move on; learn from it, be better. For us, I hate to be greedy, but we want [to win them] all just like everyone else. We want them all. It just didn’t happen this year.
“We’ll fight hard to come back next year, without a doubt. We’ll be back.”
954 SOFTBALL CHAMPIONSHIPS
American Heritage’s seven state softball championships won under coach Marty Cooper are most in Broward County and third-most in the state behind Bartow (eight) and Naples (10). The Patriots finished second in 2017, ’15 and ’13. Here are Broward’s all-time champions:
American Heritage (7): 2016, 2014, 2012, 2009, 2008, 2005, 2004.
Hollywood Christian (5): 1995, 1996, 2001, 2003, 2004.
St. Thomas Aquinas (4): 2002, 2003, 2013, 2014.
Coral Springs Charter (3)*: 2017, 2016, 2015.
Pines Charter (2): 2012, 2014.
Chaminade-Madonna (1): 1999.
Cooper City (1): 2009.
Everglades (1): 2007.
Westminster Academy (1): 1999.
(*) - Active streak