SC SB Leah Gonzalez

St. Cloud's Leah Gonzalez drills a triple to right field in the first inning of the Bulldogs Kissimmee Klassic opener, a 12-2 win over Alonso on Thursday.

Kowgirls can't match good pitch with good hitting

After playing four games over three days in the 27th annual Roger Jones Kissimmee Klassic, the best thing for Osceola and St. Cloud’s softball teams to do as they await the district tournaments in less than three is to … play for a championship.

They’ll do just that Tuesday when the Kowgirls host the Bulldogs at Coffey Field, with the winner having the inside track to taking the Orange Belt Conference crown.

St. Cloud still had to tune out Harmony Tuesday night in a game that finished after deadline for this print edition, just like Osceola had to stand tall against Liberty Wednesday, for that scenario to happen, but if it does it would set up a vibe similar to what fans saw last weekend at the Osceola County Softball Complex.

The Bulldogs went 3-1 against some elite competition in the tournament. They earned fifth place in the more competitive Blue Bracket, only because a 4-3, eight-inning loss to West Nassau Friday night derailed their chance at a championship. But St. Cloud (13-5-1) scored 35 runs in those four games, and Coach Ray Whobrey said the team had the most hits of any team in the 32-team tournament among the Blue and Gold divisions.

Ariana Manzanares and Taylor McFann were 6-for-11 (.545) and each drove in seven runs in the tournament. McFann had five RBIs in a 12-2 win Thursday over Tampa Alonso, and Manzanares, thanks to a grand slam, drove in five in a 11-1 win over Parkland Stoneman Douglas Friday.

Amy McNab was 6-for-12 during the tournament, and catcher Leah Gonzalez got the Klassic started right when she tripled to right in the first inning against Alonso, and McFann followed with a single to bring her home. The Bulldogs erupted for four runs in the second; Vanessa Davis stole third and home to score, and McFann drove in two more with a double. McFann topped off her fie-RBI night with a two-run single in the fifth that was part of a six-run inning.  Morgan Watral's RBI bunt single in the sixth scored Hannah Nasco and ended the game via the 10-run rule.

The Bulldogs finished the tournament with an 8-2 rain-shortened win over Davie University. McNab drove in three runs, and Gonzalez brought home two more.

St. Cloud Coach Ray Whobrey said he and the team came away from the Klassic feeling excited about the stretch run to the district playoffs.

“We thought it was a great tournament, the girls did a lot of good things in big moments,” he said. “Even in the loss, we gave ourselves multiple chances to win it in the seventh and eighth inning. We scored a lot of runs and had a lot of hits, and we got to rest Alyssa (O’Donnell, the Bulldogs No. 1 pitcher) a little.”

The Bulldogs play at Melbourne (15-3 through Tuesday) on Friday.

Osceola (12-8), playing in the Gold Division, got off to a solid start, defeating Okeechobee, 3-0 on Thursday, but then were stymied by solid pitching the rest of the tournament.

The Kowgirls managed just two hits Thursday but made the runs they managed count as pitcher Shelby Jones kept the Okeechobee batters off-balance the whole game. The junior spun a two-hitter and struck out seven.

OHS SB Shelby Jones

Osceola pitcher Shelby Jones fires a pitch against Okeechobee in Thursday's 3-0 win in the Kissimmee Klassic.

Osceola got all the runs it needed on just one hit. Natalia Ferrer walked to lead off, Leyla Laboy reached base on a bunt single and Jaiona Ramos reached on fielder's choice to load the bases. Two runs scored when Kendall Thompson reached on an error, and Ramos came in on Madison Dennis' well-placed sacrifice bunt. Okeechobee loaded the bases with two outs in the seventh, but Jones coaxed a ground out to end the game.

From there, the Kowgirls suffered shutout losses at the hands of Canterbury, Rockledge and Frostproof.

OHS Coach George Coffey said the team is disappointed in its Klassic showing, but not disheartened.

“I would have liked us to have played better and gotten big hits at the right time,” he said, “but am I concerned we didn’t score for 25 innings? No, because I know they’ll come around when we need them.”

Audra Thompson (3-for-10), Jaiona Ramos (3-for-10) and Rylee Andrews (3-for-11) were the team’s leading hitters in the tournament. Jones posted a 1.40 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 20 innings over three games in the circle.

Osceola plays its final District 9A-7 game at home Friday against Davenport Ridge ahead of Tuesday’s game against St. Cloud.

KLASSIC CHAMPIONS … TBA: Due to a significant rain delay Saturday, the Klassic Blue Bracket championship between Oakleaf and Bartow was not played. Coffey said the teams have agreed to meet later in the season at Oakleaf to decide the championship. The Gold Bracket winner was decided by a coin flip, and Lake Howell won the flip over Cantonment Tate.

THE 28TH ANNUAL KLASSIC: Despite the county’s plan to close the softball complex and a new one on the west end of the county, the Klassic will be played in 2020, Coffey said. Plans for other sites are in the works, and returning teams have already begun the registration process.