Hurricanes to play for 5A state title

The Gainesville High School softball team played in the Class 5A state semifinals against Archbishop McCarthy (Fort Lauderdale) on Thursday at
The Gainesville High School softball team played in the Class 5A state semifinals against Archbishop McCarthy (Fort Lauderdale) on Thursday at Legends Way Ball Fields in Clermont.
Photo by Mike Ridaught

Things did not start off so well for the Gainesville High softball team in Thursday’s FHSAA Class 5A state semifinals.

Archbishop McCarthy (Southwest Ranches) took advantage of a walk and a hit batsman to start the bottom of the first inning and both scored on a throwing error by GHS freshman pitcher Leanna Bourdage for a 2-0 lead.

However, the Hurricanes, who were making their first final four appearance in eight years, rallied for two runs in the top of the third inning and scored three in the fourth en route to a 5-2 win at Legends Way Ball Fields in Clermont.

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GHS (24-4) will play for the state title at 4:30 p.m. on Friday against defending state champion Parrish Community, which eliminated Horizon, 6-1, in the other state semifinal.

“It’s a great feeling,” said Gainesville coach Chris Chronister. “These girls have worked hard all year. Kudos to them. They really earned it, another tough game for them but we pulled it out.”

The No. 3 seed Hurricanes threatened in the top of the first inning.

With one out, junior McKenna O’Sullivan had an infield hit to shortstop, followed by a single to left field by Bourdage.

However, Mavericks’ pitcher Sienna Garcia struck out junior catcher Braylin Cook and junior designated player Rihanna Williams to end the threat.

“I don’t mind being down early and we actually had a fairly successful first inning even though we didn’t score,” Chronister said. “I felt like we were going to be okay offensively in the game, and they didn’t even really put the ball in play in the first inning and we gave up two runs, so I didn’t feel like they were going to be a strong offensive team against Leanna, I know they are a good hitting team but facing Leanna is a different animal.”

Indeed, as the freshman overcame a rough start in the bottom of the first inning and finished the game with 14 strikeouts.

Bourdage said she wasn’t worried about the early 2-0 deficit.

“I knew that my offense would back me up because I trust them, we’ve been working hard,” she said. “I also knew that my arm was a little numb but working through it I knew that I could come back still.”

After the first two outs were recorded in the top of the third inning, Bourdage walked, sending Cook to the plate representing the tying run.

Cook, who has 12 home runs on the year, hit a fly ball to center field that was dropped by Barron for an error, scoring Bourdage, to cut the deficit in half at 2-1.

Then, Williams (2-for-4, RBI) singled into center field as Barron dove for it but was unable to snag it in the air on the low line drive, which scored Cook to tie the game at 2-2.

“Rihanna has really come on in the second half of the season,” Chronister said. “She’s been working so hard. I’m really happy for her because she’s a hard worker and she deserves it.”

The ‘Canes carried the momentum into the bottom of the third inning as Bourdage struck out the side in order.

“That helped a lot,” Bourdage said of the two runs in the top of the inning. “I was like, alright now it’s my turn to come back at it because my offense had my back.”

In the top of the fourth, sophomore Roxy Walsh (2-for-3, RS) led off the inning with a single to right field.

A sacrifice bunt by sophomore Lana Renicks put Walsh in scoring position with one out.

That sent No. 9 hitter Josie Kirwan to the plate and the junior grounded the ball to second base.

However, the ball went through the legs of Olivia Coloca for an error, scoring Walsh for a 3-2 lead.

After senior center fielder Elise Knopf reached on an error by Garcia, O’Sullivan had a sacrifice fly to right field, scoring Kirwan for a 4-2 lead.

Bourdage (2-for-3, RBI, RS) followed with an infield hit, scoring Knopf for a 3-run lead.

The Mavericks (16-6) got their first and only hit off of Bourdage (7 IP, 0 ER, 1 H, 4 BB, 1 HBP, 14 K) in the bottom of the fifth on a one-out double by Garcia.

However, cleanup hitter Chanty Guillou was robbed of a hit on a diving catch in center by Knopf, who was celebrating her 18th birthday.

“She’s just been a great player for us,” Chronister said. “She’s a coach’s player. She’ll do anything you ask her to do. She works hard. For her to make that play, it was a great play but I’m not surprised she made it. That’s the kind of player that she is. She’s going to go and get it, so I’m really happy for her to do that on her birthday. It was real exciting.”

Bourdage struck out the side in order in the sixth inning, putting her within three defensive outs of leading GHS to its first title game since winning the Class 7A state title in 2016.

“She was really good,” Chronister said. “She always has great poise out there…she really came through and we got down to the last inning and I told her they had 8, 9, and 1 in the lineup, so just pump the strike zone, make them put it in play, they hadn’t done it all day, and we’re going to make them put it in play.”

She struck out the first two, extending her strikeout streak to five in a row, before Barron grounded out to first to officially send the ‘Canes to Friday’s title game.

With a win against the No. 2 seed Mavericks complete, GHS can now turn its attention to top seed Parrish Community (19-8).

“I told the girls after our game we just need to play our game,” Chronister said. “If we pitch, play defense, and hit the way that we’re hitting, I feel like we can beat any team out here and if we can execute that tomorrow, I feel like we have a good chance.”

Friday’s game will be broadcast online (free audio available) at Mainstreet Daily News beginning at 4:20 p.m.

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to reflect the entire game.

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