By PATRICK CASEY
The Ponce de Leon softball team captured their first district crown since 2006 as they rallied for three runs in the top of the sixth inning to pull out a 4-3 win over the tournament host, Central High School, on Thursday night.
The Pirates took a 1-0 lead during their first at-bat in the top of the first inning as August Brown singled, was sacrificed to second by Devyn Butorac, moved to third on a wild pitch and scored on a sacrifice fly off the bat of Marissa Powell.
Butorac, an eighth grader who has pitched well for the varsity squad this season, ran into trouble in the bottom of the second inning as a single and two errors loaded the bases for the Jaguars. The threat ended moments later as Butorac fielded a shot back to the mound that started a 1-2-3 double play to end the inning as catcher Delilah Bass made a nice throw to first baseman Brittany Alford to get the final out.
The Pirates were unable to dodge trouble in the third as four hits, including a double by senior Allaina Morrow with the help of a costly error on a pop-up saw the host squad plate three runs to take a 3-1 lead.
The Pirates were able to respond in the top of the sixth inning as the top three hitters in their order did all the damage. Brown and Butorac led off with singles with Marissa Powell providing one of her own that drove in both runners. The Jaguars attempted to nail Butorac at the plate but her slide took out the Jaguars catcher, allowing the throw home to carom off of the backstop where a teammate fielded the ball, then threw to third to try and get Powell, who had not stopped circling the bases on her hit. The throw was high and went off of the glove of third baseman Adrienne Harris, rolling into foul territory as Powell raced home with the go-ahead run for a 4-3 lead. Powell, a senior, then took over on the mound and got past an error that allowed Savannah Gordon to reach first safely to start the inning. Powell coaxed a pop-out, then struck out the next two batters to end the inning.
The Jaguars had one last chance to tie the game in the bottom of the seventh inning but Powell recorded the first two outs on grounders back to the mound. An error in centerfield gave Central a base-runner at first with two outs but Powell retired junior catcher Courtney Arnaud on a foul out to Bass behind the plate to set off the celebration.
First-year softball coach Josh McGowan and assistant coach Cody Carroll were quite pleased at all the team accomplished during the week, knocking off Bethlehem 11-1 in PDL on Monday, then pulling the upset of the tournament with a 2-1 win over top-seeded Poplar Springs on Tuesday night.
“We had a great week. Both Devyn and Marissa pitched well and we executed well enough to get wins. The win over Poplar was huge. We used the bunt to get some runs and held on for a win against a squad that had won 20 games,” McGowan said.
Against Poplar Springs, freshman Chambleigh Webster dropped down a squeeze bunt that plated two runs in the fourth inning of that contest that would hold up for a 2-1 win over the 22-2 Atomics. Butorac and Powell combined to get the job done on the mound as their 1-2 combination has given McGowan options when one of the hurlers tires.
PDL (12-11) will host Wewahitchka (18-6) on Tuesday, April 29, at 7 p.m. in the opening round of the Class A state softball playoffs. The Gators are a young squad that features only one senior on the team. Wewa fell in the District 2 title game at home to Sneads 7-1 on Thursday night.
Team Notes: This is the Pirates’ fifth trip to the playoffs since fast-pitch softball went statewide in 1994. The Pirates are 1-3 in four previous trips with the lone win a 5-4 decision over Vernon in 2001. The Pirates lost to Baker in the first round of the 2006 playoffs by a score of 12-1. The winner of the PDL-Wewa contest will likely run into Region 1 favorite Sneads in the Region Final. Sneads is 18-0 against Class A competition in 2014 and hosts Central in the opening round. The Region Final is set for Friday, May 2.
By PATRICK CASEY