CLEARWATER – Palm Harbor University entered Saturday night’s championship game swinging the hottest bats of the weekend.
The Hurricanes scored 40 runs in the first three games of their annual Lady ’Canes Spring Tournament at Clearwater’s Eddie C. Moore Softball Complex. That offensive explosiveness set PHU up for a title bout against rival East Lake, a team the Hurricanes lost to 9-1 earlier in the season.
PHU couldn’t figure out how to plate runners against Eagles junior Tori Brennan on Feb. 19 and the same problem popped up last weekend. Brennan scattered seven hits and two walks over seven complete innings as East Lake won the 16-team tourney for the second time in three years.
“It means a lot because it shows how much work we’ve put into this,” Brennan said after the 1-0 victory. “In practice we work so hard and it just shows on the field with all our games.”
PHU senior Taylor Norwood matched Brennan’s impressiveness from the circle, but a little sloppy defense in the second inning provided East Lake an opportunity to take the only lead it would need. Norwood surrendered just four hits over six innings but a pair of throwing errors in the field allowed sophomore Katie Bright to race home for the night’s only run. Bright reached base after leading off the inning with a walk.
A low-scoring affair isn’t what East Lake coach Kristie Delk anticipated, but getting the rivalry win is all that matters.
“No, I really didn’t,” Delk said when asked if she thought Saturday night would be a pitcher’s duel. “We beat them 9-1 earlier in the year and we’ve been putting the ball in play, but (Norwood) did a really nice job of keeping our hitters off guard.
PHU was not without scoring opportunities, Saturday night. The Hurricanes put runners at second and third with one out in the fourth and had the bases loaded in the fifth, but Brennan shut the door each time. The junior righty ended both threats with strikeouts and finished the night with eight K's.
“She hits her zone and she lets her defense do the work and that’s all we can ask,” Delk said of her confidence in Brennan handling moments of adversity.
All 11 hits in the championship game were singles and PHU’s Makenna Utegaard produced the lone multi-hit game, going 2-for-4. Utegaard nearly tied the game up with one out in the seventh but her drive to dead center field was caught at the warning track. Faith Allen ripped a two-out line drive to left field but Brennan’s defense was there one more time to end the game.
It’s the second tournament East Lake’s won this season. The Eagles went 4-0 earlier this month to win the Montverde Academy Tournament. They beat the tournament host in that title game, as well, but it always means a little more when the opponent is PHU, Delk said.
“We’re going to get hyped up for Palm Harbor,” she said. “East Lake-Palm Harbor, you don’t want to lose this game.”
East Lake and PHU were two of five teams to finish the tournament with winning records. Durant finished 3-1 and beat Tampa Catholic in the third-place game. Calvary Christian and Durant also finished 3-1.