Prep Softball | Mustangs roar back into regional final

jlembo@bradenton.comApril 30, 2014 

TARPON SPRINGS -- When Jackie Schoff stepped to the plate Tuesday during Lakewood Ranch's Class 7A-Region 3 softball semifinal, she decided to go deaf.

The Mustangs' junior centerfielder shut everything out and just hit. Consider it a surefire way to snap out of a slump, and it couldn't have come at a better time for Lakewood Ranch.

Schoff stroked a pair of run-scoring doubles to lead the Mustangs to a 3-1 win over East Lake, sending Ranch to a region final for the third consecutive season. Lakewood Ranch (22-7) hosts Melbourne at 7 p.m. Friday for the Region 3 title, though the time of the game may change because Friday is Lakewood

Ranch's prom.

"I go up there and I have everyone in my head telling me what to do - 'Keep your hands up,' 'Don't dip,'" Schoff said. "I've got to block them out. It's been my problem this whole year - not blocking everyone out and finally going up there with no one in my head."

Schoff snapped a scoreless tie in the third when she drove in Denali Schappacher from second. Two innings later, with the game knotted at 1, Schoff delivered again with another liner to left-center. Once again, she plated Schappacher, who slashed a single past a drawn-in infield in the third and reached on a bunt hit in the fifth.

This time, however, Schoff used her speed to scrape across another run for Ranch. After going to third on the throw home on her double, Schoff danced off third base on Maddie Biggs' grounder to Ashley Bonalewicz, the East Lake shortstop.

After Bonalewicz glanced at Schoff and threw to first, Schoff sprinted home, easily beating the throw from first baseman Hannah Roberts.

"Her feet are magic,"Ranch coach Tony Cummins said of Schoff. "She's able to stretch singles into doubles, doubles into triples … it makes a huge difference."

Ranch used a two-pronged attack in the pitching circle, with righty Amanda Rak going three and lefty Logan Newton earning the win with four innings of scoreless relief.

"Amanda started off strong, had the pitches that we needed," Cummins said. "But our plan was to make the switch midway. It was a plan as far as difference in pitching, according to their hitters. The book that we had on their hitters was that a midway pitching change was the way to go."

Newton pitched out of a big jam in the seventh when she struck out pinch hitter Courtney Rehula with two outs and runners on second and third, sending Ranch to its third straight regional final.

Friday, the Mustangs will look to make their third consecutive final four, scheduled for May 9-10 in Vero Beach's Historic Dodgertown.

"It's a great group of kids who bought into the idea that we play the regular season to get to the postseason," Cummins said. "That's what they've bought into since the beginning."

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