On the local prep level, the pitching matchup between Lincoln’s Tahlia Snider and Leon’s Jensen Strickland is always worth watching.
The duo didn’t disappoint on Tuesday.
In the District 2-7A softball semifinal at Chiles, Snider, the strong right-handed senior who will stay home for college and play for Florida A&M, dueled against Strickland, last year’s All-Big Bend Player of the Year known as much for her powerful bat as for her deadly pitches.
In a stacked three-team district, all with needed gun slingers in the circle— top seed Chiles has junior Shayne O’Connell— it’s a shame that one team wouldn’t advance to the regional playoffs.
“I love (a pitchers’ duel). They’re as fun as they look,” Jensen said. “Just a close ballgame is always fun, because you don’t know what to expect. Anything can happen at any moment. It keeps you on your toes.”
The win went to Snider, who tossed seven innings of one-hit shutout ball while striking out 11 batters, leading Lincoln to a 2-0 victory.
Leon junior ace Jensen struck out eight over her six innings of work, while being undone by three defensive errors and five singles— two in the infield.
“It’s a lot harder (in a tough district), but regardless of what happens, I know I have my team behind me,” Snider said. “It’s not all on me. I know I can give up a pitch here or there and they’ll make the play behind me because they’ve got my back.”
Lincoln (16-8) got a run across in the fourth inning when outfielder Rachel Reeves singled for the first hit off Jensen. She reached third base on an error and scored on a bases loaded walk by Kat Rivera on a 3-2 pitch with one out. Jensen struck out the next two batters to work out of the jam.
Later, Snider reached first after a dropped third strike, and her pinch runner came around to score following a two-base error on a sacrifice bunt attempt.
“It’s tough to take, but I think we fought hard,” said Jensen, her season over.
“Our bats weren’t on today and Tahlia pitched great. She was obviously on and spinning the ball real well. We had trouble making adjustments, and I think that’s where we struggled. It was a close game.”
Trojans coach Terese Gober was ejected in the fifth inning with her back turned to the third base umpire, following an argued caught-stealing call on Indya Bivens, who had singled to lead off the inning, her first of two hits in the game.
As a result, Gober only witnessed the first half of Snider’s gem, which kept reigning district champion Leon (12-13) from a repeat final appearance. The former Florida State pitcher was impressed nonetheless, knowing how much Snider has improved in late-inning situations.
“The biggest thing we’ve worked on is the mentality of the game, knowing in certain situations to have mental toughness about you in the circle that gets you through tough times,” Gober said.
“We haven’t put up as many runs this year as we have in the past, but from that Tahlia has gotten stronger and better as pitcher. She knows she has to work just as hard to get us through and keep these close games close.”
Snider’s and the Trojans’ reward is a district championship game Thursday at 6 p.m. against Chiles (17-7) and O’Connell, which not only beat them twice in the regular season but won last year’s district semifinal in walk-off fashion.
“It’s going to be a huge battle, because we want this more than anything, especially after what happened last year,” Snider said. “We’re coming out guns blazing and ready to fight.”