By JASON DILL
LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Before every pitch, Amanda Rak's routine didn't waver.
She stood at the top of the circle, walked toward the rubber and stopped just short to pound the ball into the glove before grabbing it with the necessary grip to fire the correct pitch to the opposing batter.
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It's something that keeps the Lakewood Ranch sophomore focused on the task at hand, even if the situation would cause some underclassmen to crumble.
It's part of the reason Rak was calm throughout Tuesday's Class 6A-Region 3 semifinal against visiting Dover Strawberry Crest, even with the Chargers producing runners every inning, including bringing the tying run to the plate with two outs in the seventh inning.
Rak didn't wilt, and her teammates armed her with enough runs as the Mustangs won 5-1.
"Amanda is a sophomore, but she has the heart of a senior," Ranch head coach Tony Cummings said. "She just doesn't get rattled. She doesn't get flustered."
Ranch's victory means it'll host the 6A-3 final against River Ridge on Friday.
Cummings said they are trying to move up the scheduled start time of 7 p.m. because the school's senior prom is slated that
On Tuesday, the Mustangs (19-9-1) flashed their experience with a group determined to return to the state semifinals and beyond this year.
Against Strawberry Crest (24-3), Cummings said he expected a close game, based on the quality players the Chargers feature, particularly in the circle with right-hander Sammy Tyler.
And for four innings, Cummings was right in his assessment as Ranch scored the only run off a Taylor Newton solo home run to left field.
But then in the bottom of the fifth inning, things clicked offensively for the Mustangs as they scored four runs, all unearned, with two outs.
Shea Fischer's grounder to short turned into a colossal error for Strawberry Crest as Ranch plated one run on the play and three more later thanks to Amber Wimmer's double and Newton's run-scoring single.
"Hitting breeds hitting," Cummings said. "They just went up and did what they did. They all had a job. They all knew what they needed to do and they all did it."
Meanwhile, Rak continued sending down the Chargers without a run until the seventh inning.
She withstood the heavy pressure as Strawberry Crest ultimately stranded 14 runners in defeat.
And aiding in that was her unchanged routine before every pitch.
"It helps me relax, its just my routine," Rak said. "I have no other words for it."
Rak scattered nine hits, allowing one earned run and recording three strikeouts.
But her main weapon on Tuesday was inducing outs from the Chargers in key situations. And Rak's defense was superb behind her, most notably when Sierra Schappacher made a diving catch to end the sixth inning and hold Strawberry Crest off the scoreboard while leaving the bases loaded.
Then Rak returned to the rubber in the seventh and worked out of another bases loaded jam.