SEBRING - Hardee used consecutive four-run innings to pull away from Sebring Tuesday night, as the Wildcats beat the Blue Streaks by a score of 9-1 in a Class 5A-District 11 softball game.
"We sort of let one wheel fall off tonight and then, unfortunately, they all fell off," Sebring coach Joe Sinness said. "But I think through the first four innings we played some of the best softball we've played all season."
Sebring struck first on offense. In the bottom of the first inning, Emily Gilbert reached on a single. Alison Hoffner followed with a laser to Hardee's shortstop, who over threw her teammate at second base, and Gilbert was able to scamper home to give the Streaks a 1-0 lead.
Sebring's defense was impenetrable in the early going. Pitcher Ciara Copeland had the Wildcats flummoxed at the plate, and her defense masterfully handled any ground balls hit their way. The Streaks shutout Hardee through the first four innings.
But the Wildcats came alive in the top of the fifth, scoring four runs to take a 4-1 lead. Makayla Deuberry did most of the damage, belting a three-run double with two outs.
After Hardee's Kailee Henderson retired the side, she used her bat to help extend the Wildcats lead.
Sara Welch opened the top of the sixth with a double to the outfield fences. Caryssa Johnson flew out, but Senida Garcia singled to put runners on the corners. Hannah Carlton singled to bring home Welch, and Morgan Walters walked to set up a Henderson for a perfect scoring opportunity.
Henderson didn't disappoint, blasting a two-run double to give the Wildcats a 7-1 lead. Deuberry rounded out the inning with an infield single that brought home Hardee's eighth run of the game.
The Wildcats added another run in the top of the seventh, when a wild pitch let Welch trot home.
Despite the final outcome, Sinness said he was proud of the resolve his team showed in the first four innings.
"Hardee beat us pretty handily the last time we played," he said. "But tonight we beat them four out of seven innings. And considering we haven't had a real good practice in some time, I was really proud of the girls."
Sinness added that his team's got to cut down on the mental errors.
"We've got to finish," Sinness said. "We're starting to get a little bit stronger, but we can't let the mental mistakes kill us."
With Sebring heading into the stretch run of its district schedule, Sinness is confident that his team can put a solid run together.
"Tonight we proved that we are capable of playing in this district when we put it all together," he said. "And after a long spring break, it was nice to see a solid showing like that."
Sebring has just two district games left on the schedule. The Streaks will host DeSoto on Friday night at 7:30 p.m., before travelling to Lemon Bay on April 3.