VERO BEACH -- On a day when so many things went wrong, Lakewood Ranch needed some offense to heal its wounds.
Unfortunately, the Mustangs came up empty and for the second straight year were ousted in the opening round of the Class 6A state softball tournament, dropping a 7-1 decision to Lake City Columbia on Friday at the Vero Beach Sports Complex.
"Our failure to make offensive adjustments is what will haunt me about this game," Lakewood Ranch head coach Tony Cummins said. "Off-speed pitching is something this team is not accustomed to seeing or playing against, and we didn't adjust. We couldn't string anything together."
The Mustangs (20-10-1) faced some of the state's hardest throwers this season. Columbia sophomore right-handers Ashley Shoup and Erin Anderson are finesse pitchers who throw a lot of off-speed stuff.
They handcuffed Lake
wood Ranch, which brought a .320 team batting average into the game. The Mustangs had scored 22 runs in their three region tournament games. Columbia (27-4) had scored seven runs.
"I knew we were going to bust out," Columbia head coach Jimmy Williams said.
The Tigers had some help from Ranch's defense, which looked jittery in the first inning when Columbia scored three runs. The Tigers got a walk and three straight singles, while the Mustangs had an error and made an errant throw on another play in the inning.
"I am still not sure what happened. There was a miscommunication on defense, they scored three runs, and it took the wind out of our sails," Cummins said. "It definitely set a funky tone for the game. I didn't have the feeling we were jittery in the first, although what you saw in the inning would lead you to believe that."
But it was only three runs, and Lakewood Ranch had seven innings to climb back into the game. However, they couldn't get their bats cranked.
"Their pitchers threw us off. For most of the season, we played against a lot of faster pitching. I think we were too excited and too pumped up. We couldn't slow down and realize what we needed to do," third baseman Amber Wimmer said.
The Mustangs scored their only run in the bottom of the first when McKaleigh Goodale reached on an error and after another error by Columbia came home on an infield single by Wimmer.
Shoup started for Columbia and went 3 1/3 innings. The Mustangs had their best chance to score in fourth when Katie Hopkins and Tallie Sharp reached on singles.
Jackie Schoff, who singled in her first trip off Shoup, was at the plate, and Williams brought in Anderson. She fooled Schoff on an off-speed pitch for the Mustangs' only strikeout of the game.
"She (Schoff) hit the ball hard in her first at-bat, and I wanted to give her a different look so I brought in our other pitcher," Williams said.
Lakewood Ranch put runners on in the fifth and sixth innings, but couldn't do anything. Columbia broke the game open with four runs in the fifth inning highlighted by a bases-clearing double by Caleigh McCaulley.
"Their pitcher (Amanda Rak) was young like ours. We knew her out pitch was her curve and if they gave it to her on the outside of the plate we were going to be in trouble," Williams said. "We told our girls to crowd the plate and try to get that pitch and it worked for McCaulley."
Rak went the distance for the Mustangs. The sophomore right-hander shook off her first inning woes and pitched strong into the fifth. Unfortunately for her, the Tigers loaded the bases on an error, bunt and walk and scored on an infield hit. Her only mistake was to McCaulley.
"Her double was a curve on the outside corner of the plate. She got it and it was a good hit. I think our nerves got to us in the first inning and we had a lot of errors," Rak said. "But it was a great season. It feels great to be here with all these great teams, and we earned our way here. I wouldn't have done anything differently. I thought we were going to win even in the seventh inning."
Lakewood Ranch had seven hits, all singles, and no player had multiple hits.
Columbia had six hits, and only three of its runs were earned. Rak fanned six and walked three.
It was the final game for seven Lakewood Ranch seniors, including center fielder Taylor Newton and second baseman Jenn Trotter, both of whom started four years, and shortstop Goodale, a three-year starter. The other seniors were Wimmer, Hopkins, Shea Fisher and Brooke Patro.
"The errors hurt us. We fell behind and pressed at the plate a lot," Newton said. "It was slower pitching than what we were used to. We were anxious and poking at the ball because we were down three runs and looking for the big hit. My advice to anyone coming to states is win. Don't get nervous and don't go up there hacking. Wait for a nice pitch and don't get down on yourself when you make an error."