New heights for Keystone
Published: Tuesday, May 1, 2012 at 11:43 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, May 1, 2012 at 11:43 p.m.
KEYSTONE HEIGHTS — It wasn't a flawless pitching performance like she had in her two previous regional games, but in the end, Amber Skipper delivered Keystone Heights a strikeout and a spot in the softball Class 4A state semifinals for the first time since 1995.
Skipper, who tossed shutouts in wins over South Sumter and Bradford in the regional quarterfinals and semifinals, gave up 10 hits and a homer in the 7th to Cocoa Space Coast, but she struck out three of the next four batters to clinch a 6-5 win over the Vipers in the Region 2 championship.
With the victory, the Indians (19-7), winners of 10 straight and 18 of their last 19 games, will face Region 1 champion Florida High (21-6), a 1-0 road winner over West Nassau, in the state semifinals on May 13 (Mother's Day) in Clermont. Game time is set for 5 p.m. at the National Training Center Softball Complex.
Space Coast (22-8), which had threatened several times in the game only to leave runners on base, broke through in the sixth for three runs to take a 4-3 lead. The Vipers, who got four hits in the inning and took advantage of an Indian error, loaded the bases with no outs and got a key two-run single from Brianna Eberhardt to highlight the spurt.
But Keystone Heights, as it has all season, battled back and scored three runs of its own in the bottom of the sixth, getting an RBI single from Skipper and a two-run double from Ashley Maynard to retake the lead for good at 6-4.
“There were some rough spots, but we came through at the right time,” said first-year Indians coach Belinda Phillips. “It is just awesome to be going to state. This team never gave up.”
Only three of the Space Coast runs were earned, and the Vipers were very patient at the plate, pushing Skipper to full counts on six occasions. The senior pitcher had three walks in the fifth that led to Space Coast's first run.
And yet, when the game was on the line, she showed a toughness that has been an inspiration to her teammates, like her three strikeouts in seventh to end it.
“Amber is the type that nothing will faze her,” said junior center fielder Kelsey Waters, who had two hits and two amazing catches in the field, one running grab that stole a run from the Vipers in the third inning. “She will just brush it off and keep on going. That's why we love her so much. She is such a great athlete and such a great leader on the team. We are all behind her.”
Chelsea Harvin's run-scoring single in the first scored Skipper to give Keystone an early 1-0 lead. The Indians added a run in the fourth on Skipper's single to left, scoring Taylor Semione, who opened the inning with a single and had two hits on the night.
After Space Coast got its first run in the fifth, the Indians made up for it by scoring another run in the bottom half. Harvin opened with a single and Waters delivered a run-scoring triple to left-center, giving Keystone a 3-1 lead.
The Vipers had six errors in the game and were victimized at times by outstanding defense from the Indians, who turned two double plays.
“She didn't give up,” said Space Coast coach David Fuller said of Skipper. “We play another three or four times, who knows what would happen. She did her job, she hit her spots, she lived on the outside corner. This was a tough game to lose.
“Our team didn't give up. They showed what they are made of. They kept fighting and fighting.”
The Vipers will be losing six senior starters from this year's team.
The Indians lost to Fort Pierce John Carroll 13-1 in the 3A state semifinals in 1995 at Diamond Park in Gainesville.
That Keystone's next game will be on Mother's Day didn't seem to bother Phillips, who is now two wins from a state title.
“I told the girls, ‘Mothers of softball players, where else would you want to be,' ” she said. “Except for maybe the state finals. "This team battled back. Amber really pulled it out even when we got in those situations we get ourselves into. She did her job on the mound and she did her job at the plate too.”
“My mom asked for a Mother's Day gift that we get into the championship,” Waters said. “This is just incredible. We love each other so much. I probably won't sleep tonight.”