Lakewood Ranch Herald

State softball | Hot Lakewood Ranch bats go cold in semifinal defeat

CLERMONT -- Lakewood Ranch came into the Class 6A state softball semifinal with an explosive offense averaging more than nine runs per game.

The Mustangs had a .356 team batting average and had not been shut out since a 1-0 loss to Braden River on opening day, which was 27 games ago.

Their version of "Murderer's Row" included all nine batters.

But Lakewood Ranch had never faced a pitcher quite like Pembroke Pines Charter School ace Cristina Sacramento.

It's doubtful the Mustangs will ever forget her.

Making its inaugural state tournament appearance, Lakewood Ranch couldn't solve much of anything Sacramento threw and dropped a 4-0 decision to the Jaguars on Wednesday at the National Training Center Softball Complex.

The crafty right-hander kept the Lakewood Ranch offense in check, limiting the Mustangs to five hits without a walk while striking out six in a complete-game performance.

She was hitting the corners and throwing a lot of first-pitch strikes and had the Lakewood Ranch hitters off balance for most of the game, not allowing a runner to reach third base until the final inning.

The senior, who his headed for St. Thomas University in Miami, improved her record to 16-3 and lowered the 1.36 ERA she brought into the game.

One of the best things she did was induce the Ranch batters to hit the ball in the air. Ten 10 of the Mustangs'

27 outs came on flyballs or pop-ups.

"We faced faster pitchers, but she had great movement on her ball," Lakewood Ranch senior outfielder Quillan Toler said. "We had heard she threw a lot of curveballs, and we hadn't seen that much movement all season, but we should've started hitting.

"Maybe we lost focus when the game was stopped because of the rain (in the bottom of the first), and we had to change fields. I am not making excuses, but it put our energy level on a roller coaster. We were trying to hit the ball on the ground. I don't know why we were hitting it in the air so much."

While Sacramento dominated the Mustang hitters, Lakewood Ranch ace Huntyre Elling (20-5) struggled, and head coach Tony Cummins decided to pull her for freshman Amanda Rak in the third inning.

In 2 1/3 innings, Elling gave up two runs and four hits while walking three and striking out three. She came into the game with an 0.74 ERA over 132 2/3 innings and had struck out 165. Rak allowed two runs and three hits with three walks and three strikeouts in 4 2/3 innings.

"We have been a high-scoring team all year, and I didn't expect us to struggle the way we did," Lakewood Ranch head coach Tony Cummins said. "But again, we struggled in all positions. Huntyre did not have a bad day. She was struggling with a tight strike zone, which was not conducive to her style of pitching, and we made some uncharacteristic errors. But I made the move to Amanda to just change things up, that was all."

Pembroke Pines (21-4) scored single runs in the second, third, fourth and six innings. Sacramento, who entered the game with a .459 batting average, helped herself in the second with an RBI single that followed a walk, bunt and passed ball.

Moica Palacio opened the third with a double and scored on a single by Jamie Gonzalez. The Jaguars got a run in the fourth without a hit thanks to a walk, passed ball and throwing error by the Mustangs' catcher. Their final run came on walk, passed ball and single by Victoria Gonzalez, Pembroke Pines' nationally touted junior who entered the game with 11 homers, a .451 batting average and team-high 37 RBIs.

Freshman Jackie Schoff led Lakewood Ranch with two hits, including a triple in the seventh with two outs. Dana Hutchins had a double for Lakewood Ranch's other extra-base hit, while Jen Trotter and Amber Wimmer each had a single.

"I was trying to come out and just get our heads together and throw good pitches. I didn't know anything about them (Lakewood Ranch)," Sacramento said. "I just pitched my game and didn't do anything different. I was trying to get ahead on every single hitter and had a lot of first pitch strikes, which helped. I was hitting my spots exceptionally well today."

Cummins was willing to give Sacramento her due, but said the Mustangs had faced better pitchers, including Braden River's heralded Courtney Mirabella, who shut out Lakewood Ranch in that 1-0 game.

"She (Sacramento) is a good pitcher, but doesn't throw at the same pace as Mirabella," Cummins said. "She did a good job of adjusting on heights and stayed outside most of the game, but if anything hurt our hitting I thought it was that we were absolutely hyped up. It was a big stage and by the time we started to calm down it was a little bit late in the game."

The Mustangs lose five seniors that Cummins called his Fab Five: Elling, Hutchins, Toler, Amber Ozment and Cristiana Burns. Five starters return among the eight position players along with Schoff, who led the Mustangs in hitting, and Rak, who figures to be the No. 1 hurler going into next season.

"You have to want it so bad to get here and be willing to do the work," said Toler, who has signed with North Alabama. "I know next year they are going to be fired up. The biggest class we have is the 2013 class, and they are really going to be someone to look out for next year. We have a lot of young talent coming in, and there is a good crop of girls. It was awesome to get here. The players coming back know that."