Typically, the No. 9 spot in the lineup is thought to be reserved for the weakest hitter and usually is an automatic out.
But Gulliver Prep’s CiCi Castillo proved to be just the opposite of that on Tuesday afternoon. Castillo, who hits last in the lineup, stepped up to the plate and not once, but twice drilled long home runs over the left-field fence to help lead the Raiders to a 16-4, six-inning, mercy-run rule rout of Monsignor Pace in a Region 4-5A semifinal at Pace High School.
The win sets up a possible regional final rematch between Gulliver (18-8) and defending 4A state champion Coral Springs Charter on Friday. (Charter played at Fort Pierce on Thursday night as a heavy favorite to beat Lincoln Park Academy).
Gulliver, after making five consecutive trips to the state final four and winning four consecutive state titles (2010-13), dropped a 4-1 decision to CSC in last year’s regional final and would travel to Broward County for a 4 p.m. game Friday. The Raiders would host the game should Lincoln Park pull off the upset.
Castillo stepped up in the top of third with two on and two out and drove a shot of the tape-measure variety well over the left-field fence for a three-run homer.
Trailing 13-2 with two outs in the bottom of the fifth, Pace rallied for two runs to extend the game to the sixth inning, which proved good fortune for Castillo, who came up to bat with a runner on and one out and drilled a low line drive that just cleared the top of the fence in left.
“I’ve been working a lot lately with my dad to really flatten my swing out and I’ve really started to come around,” said Castillo, who was referring to former Red Sox and White Sox player Carlos Castillo. “It felt really great because I really had been struggling late in the season and just worked hard with my dad to get better. It felt great to come through for my team today. Maybe I won’t be batting ninth on Friday.”
Perhaps her best at-bat of the day might not have been either home run.
When Pace’s Monica Marquez stunned Raiders starting pitcher Lilly Barlow with a towering two-run home run in the bottom of the first to stake the Spartans (19-8) to an early 2-1 lead, Castillo was up with runners on second and third and two outs. She then proceeded to foul off four consecutive two-strike pitches before drawing a walk to load the bases and allow the top of the lineup to come up.
Kayla Jensen then stepped up and drilled a bases-clearing triple to right center and, after a walk, Jessica Rivera hit a shot to the center-field fence to drive in two more runs and put Gulliver up 6-2. The Raiders never looked back.
“She was the unsung hero of that inning for sure,” coach Mark Schusterman said. “A great at-bat to keep the inning alive and get us to the top of the lineup.”
Barlow, Gulliver’s starting pitcher, sustained a bizarre injury in the third inning when her metal cleat got caught as she was entering the dugout and caused her to fall. She suffers from sciatica, which is a condition where nerve pain originates in the lower back and legs, and aggravated her back. Barlow had to come out of the game, and Jensen took over from there.
“It was a fluky thing, but I’ll be fine and good to go for Friday,” Barlow said.
Said Schusterman: “We’ve played a very tough schedule all year. In Kissimmee [Spring Break Tournament], we played two or three ranked teams, and we’re a young group and stuff like that is a new experience for many of them. Now we’re hoping that we can take some of that experience and put it to work against a really great team in Coral Springs Charter that we’re likely to play on Friday. We’ll need to play a perfect, mistake-free game to have a shot.”
▪ Region 4-7A Semifinal — Pines Charter 6, Doral Academy 0: Pines Charter senior pitcher Claire Blount has spent the last four seasons making a lot of pretty good hitting teams look like they couldn’t hit.
Add Doral Academy to the list.
Blount took the mound for Tuesday night’s Region 4-7A semifinal at Silver Lakes Park in Pembroke Pines and dominated once again. The fierce-hitting Firebirds (17-9) were held to a mere two hits while Blount struck out 10 without walking a single batter. She closed things out in style by striking out the side in order in the last inning.
“Doral is a good team and they really have good hitters,” said Blount, who also went 2 for 4 at the plate and will take her pitching talents to UAB. “I threw a lot of off speed stuff tonight to really try and keep them off balance.”
The Jaguars (22-4) will head north up I-95 on Friday night for a big grudge match with Stuart South Fork in the regional final. It was last year that South Fork stunned the then defending state champion Jaguars 2-1 in the regional semis with a controversial late finish that allowed South Fork to score the winning run.
Blount got plenty of offensive support on Tuesday night as PC got her the only run she would need in the first inning on a Camela Lopez RBI single. The Jaguars then added two more runs in the third on RBI singles from Angelina Pascual and Malory Busha and capped things off when freshman Eliza Gonzalez hit a towering two-run homer over the left center field fence in the sixth.
Said Blount: “It would be so great to close out my career with another state title but we’ve got another tough game on Friday night because South Fork knocked us out last year and that was a really tough loss.”
▪ Region 4-9A semifinal — Palmetto 9, Coral Reef 8 (9 inn.): Lauren Margolis’ walk-off hit in the ninth gave Palmetto a 9-8 extra-innings victory over Coral Reef in the Region 4-9A semifinal Tuesday night at Palmetto Bay Park.
The Panthers (24-4), who captured all three previous matchups this season, will take on American on Friday with a trip to state on the line. The Barracudas, last year’s state runner-ups in Class 8A, finished 14-12. In the the district final between these teams, Palmetto also won via the walk-off variety.
It was a rematch of last year’s regional semifinal, which Coral Reef won 5-2 en route to an appearance in the Class 8A final it lost to Newsome, 5-1.
Trailing 8-6 after Coral Reef scored two runs in the top half of the ninth, Palmetto got things started with a leadoff walk and strung together four straight hits, including Margolis’ blast over the left-center field wall with the score tied and two runners on base. Since she didn’t finish rounding the bases in the midst of a celebration, it counted as an RBI single.
Jenice Casanas’ two-run double in the ninth handed the Barracudas an 8-6 lead. With the bases loaded and one out, Casanas sent a pitch from Brittany Barczak off the glove of the diving third baseman.
The drama didn’t start in the ninth. Samantha Lorenzo robbed Alyssa Vincent of a walk-off homer in the eighth. Instead of the game-winner, it was the final out of the frame.
Rebecca Sutton, who took over on the mound for the Barracudas in the fourth, blasted a solo homer to right-center field with two outs in the fifth to tie it at 6. She kept Palmetto’s offense quiet until the ninth.
The Barracudas led three times, including a 2-0 advantage in the first by capitalizing on two errors by the Panthers. Janelle Boyd also recorded two RBI for Coral Reef. Palmetto responded with two runs of its own in the first when the first four batters reached before an out was recorded.
Coral Reef regained the lead with two two-out runs in the second. The Panthers took their first lead with a four-run second. Amanda Guglietta tallied a game-high four RBI, while Margolis added a pair.
“It was incredible,” Palmetto coach Emilio Exposito said. “The girls just hung in there. There were a bunch of plays that didn’t go our way from the home run getting robbed to a bunch of line-drive diving catches to ground balls being snagged left and right. The girls hung in there. Brittany Barczak did an incredible job on the mound in relief, and we held our composure on defense. We had some great at-bats. The girls earned this one.”
▪ Region 4-4A Final — Westminster Christian 12, Calvary Christian 3: Calvary Christian fell one victory short of reaching the girls’ state softball tournament. Coach Lee Gilreath said the Eagles were gunning for their first trip to state in program history.
Westminster Christian, which won the state championship two years ago and made it to the title game before falling to Lakeland Christian a season ago, improved to 21-5. The Warriors will play in the 4A state semifinals Wednesday.
Gulliver was led by lead-off hitter Ally Mena — a junior and Ole Miss commit — who got on base three times, scored twice and had an RBI double; No. 2 hitter Brooklyn Maguire, who was on base three times, doubled, homered and scored twice; and Nikkia Benitez, who reached twice and scored both times.
“They’ve been doing that for us all year,” Westminster coach Scott Doan said. “Good hitters, good base runners. They are experienced at facing tough competition.
“They usually get things going for us and then everybody else chips in and does their part.”
Calvary pitcher Cassidy Crump (15-7) — an eighth-grader — took the loss but struck out 10 for Calvary (17-10).
Victoria Perez (13-5) 8 K’s. Brooklyn Maguire 2-4, 2B, HR, 3 RBI. Ashley Castano 2-4, 2 R, 2B, RBI. Adriana Otero 1-2, 2B, R, RBI. WC 21-5.