TAMPA — If postseason experience played a role in determining Wednesday night's Class 8A-Region 2 quarterfinal, Alonso would have been in trouble.
The Ravens had never even won a playoff game and were hosting a three-time state champion Palm Harbor University program making its 16th trip to regionals in the past 17 years.
On this night, though, PHU's historic clout couldn't top Alonso and star shortstop Jessica Warren.
The senior Florida State commit staked the Ravens out to an early lead with a 3-run, inside-the-park homer in the second inning that powered an eventual 4-2 victory.
“[PHU pitcher Rachel Taylor] was pitching me outside the whole game, so I was looking for it,” Warren said of her lone, however impactful, hit of the night. “Once I hit it I knew [the right fielder] wouldn't be able to get to it because of the angle she took.”
Warren's big second-inning liner into right was one of the few blemishes on an otherwise stellar pitching performance by PHU's senior lefty. Taylor kept Alonso's potent offense off-balance all night, surrendering just five hits and striking out three.
“She pitched the best game she's pitched all year, no doubt,” PHU coach Kerry Katchuk said of Taylor. “Their leadoff hitter [Warren] is special and we know that, but they're all pretty good hitters and I think they'll do well in the state tournament. I'll be shocked if they don't get to the final four.”
The win allowed Alonso (22-4) to avenge a 14-8 region quarterfinal loss to PHU two years ago in Palm Harbor. The Ravens will now host fellow District 8A-7 foe Bloomingdale in the semis next Tuesday night.
Despite committing a couple costly fielding errors and falling behind early, PHU (17-8) hung in against Alonso starter Kayla Maxwell.
The Hurricanes got on the board in the fifth, cutting the deficit to 3-1 when third baseman Logyn Lilley lifted a two-out RBI single into center that scored Alayna Gallagher. Maxwell, who struck out six and ran her season total to 100, managed to get out of a bases-loaded jam and limit the damage to a single run.
After Maxwell helped pad her lead to 4-1 in the sixth by roping an RBI double to left, PHU took one more run at her in the seventh.
Gallagher led off with her second hit of the game and freshman shortstop Baily Wilson gave the 'Canes runners at first and second with a single to left. Lilley's grounder back to Maxwell then advanced both, allowing a groundout by Taylor to score Gallagher. But 4-2 would be as close as PHU could get. Maxwell induced a game-ending grounder to second that sealed the victory.
Looking forward to 2015, PHU loses three key senior starters in Gallagher, Taylor and Brittany Lennon, but returns everyone else.
PHU - 000 010 1 --- 2-7-3
AHS - 030 001 x --- 4-5-3
WP – Kayla Maxwell (19-3)
LP – Rachel Taylor (12-4)
Palm Harbor University (17-8)
Rachel Taylor – L, 6.0 IP, 4 R, 3 ER, 5 H, 3 K, 0 BB, 2 HBP – 2-for-4, 1 RBI
Alayna Gallagher – 2-for-4, 2 R, 1 SB
Logyn Lilley – 2-for-4, 1 RBI
Jessica Warren – 1-for-3, 3 RBI, 1 R, 1 Inside-the-park HR
Kayla Maxwell – W, 7.0 IP, 2 R, 1 ER, 7 H, 6 K, 1 BB – 1-for-3, 1 RBI, 1 R, 1 2B
Victoria Perri – 1-for-3, 1 R