EAST MANATEE -- Nothing much fazes the pressure-tested Lakewood Ranch softball team.
The Mustangs played 15 one-run games during a regular season that featured several top-flight oppponents.
Maybe that's why their pitchers were at their best in the biggest moments of Thursday's 2-1 victory over rival Braden River in a tense, well-played Class 7A-District 10 title game.
Hurlers Amanda Rak and Logan Newton ended four different innings with a strikeout, leaving a Pirate base runner in scoring position each time, as the Mustangs (20-7) claimed their fifth consecutive district championship.
Newton, a lefty reliever, finished it off by fanning Brittany Cole with Zaire Yancy on second base with the tying run.
"The fifth is certainly sweet. ... As I also told the girls, this is not our only expectation," Lakewood Ranch head coach Tony Cummins said. "Those who know this team understand that we have a far greater expectation."
"I walked out (in the seventh) and said, 'How many times have you been here before?' ... When we get to this location, we're used to it. Our pitchers certainly reflected that."
The key inning may have been the bottom of the third, after the Mustangs had taken a 2-0 lead. A steady rain that would continue for the rest of the game started in the frame, and Rak walked Bethaney Keen with the bases loaded for the Pirates' lone run. But she bounced back to strike out Cole to escape the jam.
"I was trying my hardest to keep the ball dry. Throughout the whole game, I kept my regular routine," Rak said. "It means so much, especially because it's against our rival. ... I think we've earned it. We all wanted it."
Braden River (13-13), which entered the game as the top seed after tying Lakewood Ranch for the district's regular-season crown. stranded 11 base runners, eight of them in scoring position.
"We had our chances," Pirates head coach Erin Spivey said. "We played really good ball tonight. ... I would hate to be in their shoes when we see them again."
Both teams advance to the Region 3 quarterfinals on April 24. The Mustangs will be home against Clearwater Countryside, and the Pirates will travel to Tarpon Springs East Lake. If both teams win, they will meet again, this time at Lakewood Ranch.
Lakewood Ranch scored first against Braden River pitcher Lexie Phelps in the top of the second, when Gretchen Ebert doubled and game around on a Talli Sharp double. In the third, a Sierra Shappacher double off the right-center field fence scored Kyra Klarkowski.
Braden River nearly took the lead in the third, when Sarah Crawford and Kenya Yancy led off with singles and, with two outs, Zaire Yancy was hit by a pitch. But Rak made a big pitch to Cole and got out of the jam.
Lakewood Ranch outhit Braden River 9-8. Rak struck out six, and Newton, a lefty reliever who entered with one out in the sixth fanned one.
The Mustangs missed a couple of chances to score as well. Pirates center fielder Kenya Yancy, a converted shortstop who has committed to USF, gunned down a pair of Lakewood Ranch runners at the plate on base hits.
"That's why I have her there." Spivey said. "She's super fast out there in the outfield, but she's got a heckuva cannon. If they were to hit it to anybody on this field, that's not the one you want to hit it to."