EAST MANATEE -- Courtney Mirabella has now gone 61 innings without giving up a run.
But it was that 61st inning that gave her Braden River softball some trepidation before pulling out a 2-0 victory over visiting Venice Tuesday night.
This was do or die night. It was the Class 7A-District 11 opener and the season was over for the loser.
Venice (10-12) put two runners on with one out in the seventh and the nerves started to jangle a bit for Braden River.
The Indians seemed to be catching on to the right hander who leads the state of Florida in strikeouts. But Mirabella believes in her defense. She got a grounder to shortstop Kenya Yancy that was turned into a force at third and got the next batter to pop up to short.
"I wasn't worried. One girl hit an outside pitch and the second batter hit a change-up," Mirabella said. "I know my defense can back me up and we can easily win games relying on our defense. We definitely have a target on
our backs, but we can handle it. We like the pressure. I've only won one district championship and we want to win another."
Braden River will play host to the district title game Thursday night against Sarasota, which defeated Manatee 9-3.
In improving her record to 14-3, Mirabella struck out 15, gave up three hits and hit a batter. She threw 87 pitches with 68 going for strikes. She leads the state with 261 strikeouts in 130.3 and came into the game with a state leading 0.17 ERA.
Braden River (20-5) got the only run it needed in the second on an RBI opposite field single to right by Hannah Ryan. It scored Jessica Cadorette, who led off the inning with a single and took second on a sacrifice bunt by Mirabella.
"It was a great team effort to win it. I've been struggling hitting lately so it felt good to get a hit. I just tried to hit the ball where it was pitched. Maybe this will help me with my hitting," Ryan said.
Braden River got its insurance run in the fourth. Mirabella started the inning with a single and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. The run scored when Rachel Bastien's bunt was misplayed into an error.
"All year long Hannah has been putting the bat on the ball. It just happens it's been going right to people. If she keeps doing what she is going we will be all0right," Braden River head coach Erin Spivey said.
Mirabella retired the first nine batters of the game and struck out the side in the third. Venice got its first hit on a single by Katelin Davis leading off the fourth and Mirabella hit a batter to put two on with one out but got the next two.
Braden River has defeated Sarasota twice this season, 2-0 and 4-2. But Spivey is taking anything for granted and expects a close game.
"Every team is going to be a tough team from now on. We expected that coming in and Thursday night it will be the same thing," she said. "Thursday we still advance (if we lose), but they want a championship. This group of seniors has only won one district championship and we need another one. I am always worried, but if they score in the first three innings you can pretty much count it in the bank."