Gainesville couldn’t have picked a better time to be playing its best softball of the season.
On Thursday, the Hurricanes (13-13) won their third straight playoff game in convincing fashion, needing only six innings to defeat visiting Milton (12-9), 12-2, in the Class 5A Region 1 Quarterfinal game.
This coming from a team that started the season 2-4 trying to kick the error bug and then losing seven of nine games entering the district playoffs where GHS beat Belleview, 11-4, and then Vanguard (Ocala), 15-8, for the district title.
“We’ve had our ups and downs this season for sure,” Gainesville coach Chris Chronister said. “We lost a lot of players from last year, so coming into the season we had to figure a lot of things out, a lot of positions to get people in place where they needed to be. Like I told the girls, that was the best game we’ve played all year and we did it at the right time.”
And much like Gainesville’s season, the contest started a bit bumpy with Milton grabbing a 2-0 lead going into the bottom of the third inning. It didn’t look much better when GHS’ first two batters were thrown out at first base, but with two outs Jayla Clark got on base on a Panthers’ error and Karter Thorp hit a single. That set up Parris Wiggs, who smashed the ball past the center fielder for a two-run triple, followed by a Kyra Hornsby one-run single for a 3-2 lead.
“All year, the key to our success is offense,” Chronister said. “I felt confident that our offense—and I think our team felt confident—that our offense would come through and score some runs.”
Once the Hurricanes grabbed the lead, Hornsby’s pitching and GHS’ defense shut down the Panthers’ offense. Hornsby stuck out five Milton batters and the defense didn’t commit any errors.
“I felt confident that we would score some runs, but I know that [Milton has] some strong hitting and Kyra did a good job in the circle tonight hitting her spots and keeping them off balance,” Chronister said.
Gainesville added another run in the bottom of the fifth when Wiggs hit a triple down the left field line driving in Thorp. The Hurricanes would load the bases with no outs, but were unable to score again.
Then came the sixth inning.
With a 4-2 lead, the Hurricanes took advantage of a Milton pitching staff that finally ran out of gas. With the first two batters advancing to base, Thorp hit a two-run single to right field and then scored when Wiggs hit a ball that went under the second baseman’s mitt. Hornsby doubled and Brailyn Cook was hit by a pitch to load the bases with no outs.
Kamron Sumler hit a ball to the shortstop and Wiggs broke up the throw to the catcher on her way to score. Michaela Cromarty was hit by a pitch, scoring courtesy runner Ava Gleason, followed by Elise Knopf’s walk that scored courtesy runner Alicia Hill. Jailynn Ray walked to score Sumler and two batters later, Thorp hit a bases-loaded sacrifice fly to center field that drove in Cromarty to end the game on the 10-run mercy rule.
Thorpe finished 4-for-4 with three RBI and three runs, Wiggs went 2-for-4 with two RBI and two runs, Clark hit 2-for-5 with two runs, and Hornsby went 2-for-3.
The only negative in the game for Gainesville came in the bottom of the fifth inning when right fielder Aa’Laysia Williams was warming up on deck and was nailed in the right arm by a foul ball. She left the game and had a sling on her arm at the end of the contest.
Gainesville advances to the 5A-Region 1 Semifinals and will play Middleburg on Tuesday at 7 p.m. at a site to be determined.
In Class 1A regional semifinal softball action, Dixie County defeated Trenton, 6-5, and will face Taylor (Pierson), winners over Williston, 8-6, on Tuesday.
Union County beat Madison County, 10-6, and will play Fort White, who edged Lafayette (Mayo), 3-1.
In baseball, Columbia (Lake City) beat Mosley (Lynn Haven), 5-2, in the Class 5A Regional Semifinals and will advance to the quarterfinal round for the first time in 10 years, where the Tigers will host Lincoln on Monday at 7 p.m.
Thursday, May 12, results
Class 5A Regional Semifinals
No. 1 Columbia (Lake City) 5, No. 5 Mosley (Lynn Haven) 2
No. 3 Gainesville 12, No. 6 Milton 2 (6)
Regional Semifinals Class 1A
No. 1 Fort White 3, No. 4 Lafayette (Mayo) 1
No. 3 Union County (Lake Butler) 10, No. 2 Madison County 6
No. 1 Dixie County (Cross City) 6, No. 4 Trenton 5
No. 2 Taylor (Pierson) 8, No. 3 Williston 6