ST. PETERSBURG — Countryside High will get to roll into next week's district tournament with a championship freshly tucked under its belt.
The Cougars captured the 2014 Pinellas County Athletic Conference title Friday night by beating fellow Class 7A District 9 foe Northeast, 4-1.
“We started off really rough so it felt awesome to win this game,” said catcher Brittany Creamer, who hit a win-sealing 2-run homer in the sixth inning. “It means the world to us, especially because this is my senior year.”
Leading the way for Countryside was the combined pitching effort of starter Alyssa Queen and reliever Stella Preston.
Queen endured a rocky first inning that saw Northeast jump out to a quick 1-0 lead on Ellie Slovak's RBI double just two batters into the frame. But after catcher Kayla Stellwag recorded Northeast's sixth total hit to lead off the third, no other Viking would reach base the rest of the night. Queen sat down the next six batters in a row and Preston retired the side in order three straight times to pick up the win.
“Stella's really stepped up a few times this year in really important situations,” Countryside coach Kaylyn Bayly said of Preston's perfect three innings of work. “She did an awesome job. You could tell she was focused.”
Nearly as impressive was the duo's counterpart in the circle, Northeast junior Riley Randolph. The lefty kept Cougars hitters off-balance almost all night, scattering five hits and striking out seven.
Letting Randolph down, though, was a less-than-stellar performance behind her defensively. Countryside tied the game at 1-1 in the fourth when Creamer appeared to ground out to end the inning, but an ensuing error allowed Makensie Griffin to score.
Cougars first baseman Keeley Mayers then turned a bloop hit to shallow left field into an error-assisted inside-the-park home run leading off the sixth to go ahead 2-1. Helping cause an errant throw that sailed into right-field foul territory was Mayers' hustling to second base as the ball fell between Northeast left fielder Jalisa Rivera and shortstop Lizzy Bench.
“We didn't start very strong at the beginning and we weren't doing a good job at the plate, but once you start putting the ball in play, good things happen,” Bayly said.
Another fielding error during the very next at-bat put Griffin back on base. After she was sacrificed to second by an Erin Jankiewicz bunt, Creamer took care of the rest. The senior drilled a line drive straight into the wind to dead-center field for a game-clinching, 2-run homer.
“That felt awesome,” she said of the shot, her fourth of the year. “I knew it was over when I hit it.”
The Cougars are now hoping the momentum from winning another PCAC title will carry into next week's District 7A-9 tournament at Pinellas Park.
Countryside and Northeast enter the six-team field seeded first and second, respectively. Friday's win improves the Cougars' head-to-head record over Northeast to 3-1 on the year.
“It's going to be tough,” Bayly said of making it through the tournament. “I don't know who we'll face next week. Our district is tough so we have a lot of work to do over the next few days.”
Countryside will play in one semifinal against the winner of No. 4 Seminole and No. 5 Pinellas Park. Northeast gets the winner of No. 3 East Lake and No. 6 Clearwater.
The championship game is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday at Pinellas Park.
CS - 000 103 0 --- 4-5-0
NE - 100 000 0 --- 1-6-4
WP – Stella Preston (4-0)
LP – Riley Randolph (15-5)
Brittany Creamer – 1-for-3, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 1 R
Stella Preston – W, 3.0 IP, 0 R, 0 H, 2 K, 0 BB
Sommer Pollard – 2-for-4, 2 SB
Keeley Mayers – 1-for-3, 1 R, 1 2B
Ellie Slovak – 1-for-3, 1 RBI, 1 2B
Janae Duty – 2-for-3, 1 R
Riley Randolph – L, 7.0 IP, 4 R, 2 ER, 5 H, 7 K, 1 BB
Kayla Stellwag – 2-for-3