EAST MANATEE -- Courtney Mirabella was one pitch away from taking her Braden River softball team to the Class 7A-Region 3 championship game.
It seemed like the money in the bank. She had not allowed a run in 81 2/3 straight innings and had not given up a homer all season.
But on a 3-2 pitch, Sarasota sophomore catcher Alyssa Price hit a ball over the fence to tie the game at 1 and send it into extra innings.
It was the beginning of a nightmare for Braden River, which saw its season end 2-1 in a nine-inning loss Tuesday night.
Braden River learned softball is a game of inches that can break a team's heart into a million pieces. Pirates head coach Erin Spivey said it just wasn't meant to be.
Braden River had a chance to win it in the bottom of the seventh. Alyssa Patneaude was on second with one out. Brittany Cole hit a single up the middle that looked like the game-winner.
The throw from center was off, down the third-base line, and in a bang-bang play at the plate, the umpire ruled that Price tagged out Patneaude.
It was a controversial call that only a video replay could determine. But there are no video replays in high school. The call was among many things that went wrong for the Pirates.
"We hit the ball hard all night, but just right at people," Spivey said. "We didn't get the calls we needed like the play at the plate. Their girl hit one hit and that is part of the game. I believe
she (Patneaude) was safe all the way. She went to the inside, and the ball was thrown to the outside of the plate. I thought she was there and I don't think he (the umpire) had a good view of it. We needed some things to go our way tonight, and they didn't. What are the odds on her hitting the home run? I would like to know."
The Pirates had base runners on in every inning but the second and ninth. But they also put the ball in the air too much with 16 of their outs coming on infield popups or fly balls to the outfield.
Sarasota scored the winning run in the ninth making the most of two bunts.
A bunt single, sacrifice and a bloop single to right that fell just beyond the Braden River second baseman put runners on first and third with one out. Then with two strikes Sara Beth Winegard put down a squeeze bunt that decided the game.
Braden River (22-6) outhit Sarasota 10-5, and three of the Sailors' hits came in the ninth with two being bunts. Mirabella struck out 12 and walked one.
The senior right-hander helped her cause in the sixth when she singled and scored on a triple by Hannah Loyer. The Pirates perhaps missed out on a scoring chance in the fourth when they had a runner on third with one out and could not get her in after she held at third on a grounder to second.
Mirabella had three hits. Bethany Keen and Brittany Cole had two hits apiece.
"I was just one pitch away, and she hit it," said Mirabella, who is headed for N.C. State. "It was a curveball out and she hit it and took it good. I think playing with all these girls has really prepared me for the next level."
It was the third homer of the season for Price.
"That was a stressful moment for me. I just wanted to put the ball in play," Price said. "It was the best feeling in the world. I haven't done that good against her (Mirabella). I am just glad I finished strong. I didn't care where it went. I just wanted to hit it. I was just swinging.
"The play at the plate was awesome. The throw was little bit off line, and I don't know what came over me. I just dove and I tagged her on her hip. It was a tough play. It was really close."