SARASOTA – The pop-up drifted out toward center field, forcing McKenzie Clark to backpedal along with it.
Sarasota Christian’s shortstop lifted her glove and made the catch. Then she didn’t, as the ball spun out and headed toward the ground. Finally, at the last second, Clark capped her juggling act by grabbing the ball near her knee.
The play summed up everything about the Blazers’ Class 2A-Region 3 semifinal against Southwest Florida Christian Academy: A struggle, but ultimately the job got done.
The Blazers beat the Kings 7-5 Tuesday, sending them to Friday’s regional final at Belle Glades Glades Day.
It was the fourth time this season Sarasota Christian (18-2) defeated SFCA, winning the previous three meetings by an average of 12 runs. This time, the Kings managed to get the tying run to the plate in Sophie Dawdy, whose groundout to second ended the game.
“We didn’t have that fire that we usually have,” said Clark, a seventh-grader who doubled, walked and score two runs. “If we don’t have that fire we don’t have our focus. And if we don’t have our focus, we don’t play that perfect game.”
Despite their foibles, the Blazers managed to do what they needed to do to come within a game of winning their second straight regional title. They jumped to a 3-0 lead in the first on the strength of a run-scoring grounder from Audra King, a SFCA error and an RBI single by Annika Jensen.
The big blow came courtesy of Audrey Bennett, who cracked a two-out, two-run double in the sixth, which proved crucial considering the Kings scored three times during the top of the seventh.
“They gave us a great game,” Blazers coach Dallas Miller said of the Kings. “We just didn’t have the energy level … We weren’t up, we didn’t play our game.”
Blazers ace Cheyenne Miller was touched up for seven hits but struck out four, with her last one coming against SK Sheffield with two on and one out during the top of the seventh.
Miller also singled twice, scored twice and drove in a run.
Abbey Thomas reached base four times for the Kings, scoring twice, and Kelsey Campanelli scored two runs.
Sarasota Christian was ranked fifth statewide.