Zoe Rodgers jogged back to Manatee High School’s dugout at Blackstone Park after her shakiest inning of the Hurricanes’ opening game at the Palmetto Spring Break Tournament.
Rodgers couldn’t suppress her excitement and anxiety about pitching against Seminole Osceola, a team coached by a former club coach and dotted with former teammates. The freshman yielded a hit to lead off the game and walked her only batter later in the frame before returning to the bench unscathed.
“I just had to figure out my batters,” Rodgers said, “and come in harder and faster.”
When she walked back to the mound, the Hurricanes’ offense had given her a one-run lead, and she was set to face the back end of the order. In four pitches, Rodgers set down Osceola’s Nos. 6, 7 and 8 hitters. Warriors head coach Jerry King, who had coached Rodgers with the Clearwater Lady Bombers three years ago, stopped at the fence behind home plate to ask a parent keeping score if he had counted right. King lowered his eyes and shook his head.
Osceola never solved Rodgers. The right-hander tossed seven scoreless innings with five strikeouts to give Manatee a 9-0 win in Palmetto. The Warriors managed six hits against Rodgers, and four of those came during the final two innings when the Hurricanes’ victory was easily in hand.
“As a freshman, yeah, this is probably her better game,” Hurricanes head coach Dan Schaffer said. “She had a little incentive for this one.”
Manatee (4-7) and Palmetto jointly opened the Spring Break Tournament on Friday with a pair of victories. On a neighboring field, the Tigers secured a 9-2 win against Naples Gulf Coast after racing to an 8-0 lead in the first inning. The Hurricanes will conclude the tournament with a pair of games Saturday; Palmetto (3-5) will get only one because of team dropped out of the field on late notice.
“They performed very well as a team,” Tigers head coach Tammy Stinton said after her team’s rout Friday. “We’ve got some stuff we’re improving on, and we’ve got a lot of stuff we’re still working on.”
For both Manatee and Palmetto, a midseason tournament provides a barometer for where they stand against teams beyond the rigors of Class 8A-District 8. The Hurricanes and Tigers have struggled to compete with Lakewood Ranch and Sarasota in recent years — although Palmetto split a pair of games with the Sailors this season — so rapid-fire games from postseason contenders from other districts, such as Osceola, can be telling.
The Hurricanes, who will be the No. 4 seed in the Class 8A-8 tournament next month, found their formula for victory against the Warriors. Rodgers, a promising freshman, shredded Osceola (6-3) with three 1-2-3 innings. Manatee’s offense, which had scored more than two runs once since its season-opener, capitalized on the Warriors’ mistakes and some luck for a pair of four-run innings.
Kara Saylor drove in a run and scored twice for the Hurricanes, once after reaching on an error and once after walking. Kara Marsh chipped in with a pair of RBIs, as well, and Sabrina Abbott scored once in and drove in another.
“We put the bat on the ball in key situations,” Schaffer said. “We got some people on with some walks and some errors, and then our other batters came through and hit the ball where they needed.”
Palmetto vs. Seminole Osceola, 9 a.m.
Manatee vs. Winter Haven, 9:30 a.m.
Manatee vs. Naples Gulf Coast, 11 a.m.
Seminole Osceola vs. Winter Haven 11:30 a.m.
All games at Blackstone Park in Palmetto.