Palatka falls in 11 in District 2-2A final
The season had already been a satisfying one for the Palatka High School softball team.
The Panthers were just three outs away from wiping out the top two seeds of the District 5-5A tournament and capturing a championship for the first time since 2009, matching the win total of the program of the last four seasons total.
But host and tournament second seed Alachua Santa Fe blew apart that district title dream by scoring two runs in the bottom of the 11th inning and defeated the fourth-seeded Panthers, 3-2, Thursday night.
“Technically, I’m not disappointed,” first-year Panthers coach Brandi Malandrucco said after the setback. “They accomplisehd something that no one thought they would accomplish – get to the district (tournament) final and into the state tournament. Disappointed is not the right word. Yes, it’s a hard loss, but really, I don’t have a word to describe. But I’m not disappointed.”
Things looked up for the 16-10 Panthers when they scored in the top of the 11th inning to take a 2-1 lead. Jaden Musgrove singled and Ja’Kya Wiggins sacrifice bunted her to second. That brought up Kortnee Booth, who lined a single to center field to bring in Musgrove. The Panthers threatened to score more against starter Hailey Raulerson when both Jesenia Feggins and Carlie Drew singled to load the bases. But Raulers struck out Brittney Funk looking and got Makayla Clemons to pop out to end the threat.
Jordan Bevington started the bottom of the 11th for the Raiders (20-6) by delivering a single off Funk (8-3). After a sacrifice bunt, Riley Schneyder delivered a bunt single to put runners on first and third. Raulerson put down a perfect squeeze bunt single to score Beinvington and tie the game again.
With runners on first and second, Courtney Robinson singled to left field to bring home Schneyder with the winning run.
In a battle of wils in the circle, Raulerson (12-5) allowed 11 hits, walked no batters and struck out six, while Funk scattered 15 hits, walked two and fanned one hitter. Both pitchers went the distance.
For Palatka, Musgrove was 2-for-5 with a run, scored, while Drew and Feggins each finished 2-for-5 and Booth was 2-for-5 with a run and an RBI. She scored on a Funk RBI single in the fourth inning. Clemons, Funk and Aubrey Brown added one hit apiece.
The Panthers will play the winner of tonight’s District 6-5A title game at Eustis High between Eustis (24-1) and South Sumter (18-8). That game is 7 p.m. Wednesday at the district winner’s home field.
“I think (her team) is excited about what they’ve accomplished, and the sky is the limit for them,” Malandrucco said. “They believe in themselves. They aren’t walking into something they don’t think they can do anymore.”