BRADENTON -- Hailey Dearlove's prowess from the pitcher's circle is well-known around Manatee County.
But her heads-up softball intellect and dazzling speed on the base paths isn't something most opponents can scout from the Bradenton Christian senior.
However, it was those two things that buoyed the Panthers (13-5) to the Class 3A-District 10 championship as BCS defeated Saint Stephen's 7-1 at State College of Florida on Friday.
"She's not only quick, but she's smart," Panthers head coach Gene Brown said. "She knows where the ball is and what's happening. And who's getting the ball. She's done that all year, all her career basically. She's a little more confident, obvi
ously being a senior."
Batting from the leadoff spot, Dearlove was quick to showcase her lightning-quick pace when she looped a base hit to shallow right field in the bottom of the first.
Most players would be happy to coast safely into first base, but Dearlove wasn't content with one base and turned a single into a double. She then moved to third base on a passed ball, and scored on a wild pitch.
Then in the third inning, Dearlove led the frame off with a blooper that bounced short of Saint Stephen's second baseman Lane Barnes and over the head of first baseman Kayla Hayes.
Dearlove rounded first, headed to second base and then turned for a wide open third when no Falcon was covering the bag.
Lily DeVirgilis later knocked her in on a groundout, which armed BCS with a 3-0 lead.
"Baserunning is my favorite part of the game," Dearlove said. "It's so much fun to just being able to strategize it out and be able to be that quick with it. At that point, I can't even look at the coach. It's all what I do I know my strength is and how far can I go with it."
The Falcons did make it close at 3-1 and threatened with runners in scoring position in the fifth and sixth innings, but a slew of defensive errors in the bottom of the sixth enabled the Panthers to put across four insurance runs to ice the game.
"If somebody's going to give us three chances to throw them out, we've got to make sure we get at least one of them," Saint Stephen's head coach Mike Murphy said. "But we've got Monday and Tuesday to practice. I'm comfortable that the girls can pick that up. We had a couple things we executed well (Friday) that we've been working on this week, so I'm hopeful that Monday and Tuesday's practices will get us on track for Wednesday's game."
The game was a stark contrast to the two regular season meetings between the two clubs, where BCS earned a pair of 10-run rule victories.
The Falcons (6-10) have steadily improved over the last two weeks and starting pitcher Kirsten Samuels was locked in dueling with Dearlove on Friday until the Panthers exploded for four runs off two hits, three errors and an illegal pitch.
"I was very happy with Kirsten Samuels," said Murphy about his junior pitcher. "She was actually doing a very good job of controlling it on the other side; she's missing some back up at points, but doing a really good job."
Nonetheless, Saint Stephen's, which has five middle school students and four freshmen on the team, is heading to the regional portion of the state tournament for the first time in six years.
BCS is heading back for the third consecutive season, but it's the programs first district championship since 2011.
"Everyone, when it came to the time, stepped up and played a good game," Brown said.
Dearlove (2-for-4, two doubles, two runs scored) was the only Panther to record multiple hits. For Saint Stephen's, Barnes (3-for-4, double, RBI) and Samuels (2-for-3, double) collected at least two hits.
Both teams will play next Wednesday against the District 9 champion and runner-up.