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Softball: AHN caps fairy-tale season with 3A state title

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From every poignant moment to every marvelous play to every memorable rally, Academy of the Holy Names’ season unfolded like some unbelievable softball fairy tale. Again and again, the Jaguars outdid themselves in inspiration and in achievement, and Thursday night at Legends Way ballfields they provided a joyous conclusion to their special story.

The thrilling journey ended in happiness when Academy of the Holy Names rallied — twice — to beat Windermere, 4-3, in the Class 3A final for its first state title, making one of this year’s most unforgettable teams even more noteworthy. 

The Jaguars overcame a 2-0 deficit, scoring twice in the fifth inning to tie it. They watched the Lakers rally with two outs in the top of the seventh to retake the lead. Down to its final three outs, Academy of the Holy Names got the first two runners on base, then capitalized ona pair of throwing errors to bring both home for a walkoff win.

The win capped off an epic day for bay area teams at the state softball tournament. Hernando (4A) and Land O’ Lakes (5A) both erased significant deficits to pull ahead for good in the seventh inning of their semifinal games to advance to Friday’s final. 

It was appropriate that the Jaguars clinched their first title with the same winning formula that helped them win 13 straight heading into Thursday’s final. Belle Sardja gave them another effective start on the mound in the postseason. Sardja did her part at the plate, too, with three hits and an RBI that tied the game in the fifth inning.

She was not the only one who supplied the offense. Three others — Zeta Bennett, Genevieve Chiellini, Camryn Feast and Rachael Petrarca,– each had a hit. 

Still, it appeared it might not be enough. 

The euphoria of tying the game was dampened when Windermere Prep scored once in the seventh to go up 3-2. 

No matter. 

The Jaguars had already overcome so many odds, such as enduring the death of a beloved parent of two players and battling through the struggles to the start of an uneven season. 

To them, they had the Lakers right where they wanted them. After all, Academy of the Holy Names never wore off its rally caps.

Chiellini led off with a single and Feast walked. 

That set up Sardja for the heroics. 

She smacked a ball that fell for a hit. The crowd began to cheer in disbelief. Many of them were already on their feet. Others rose to join them. 

One run came across. Then another. 

Game over. 

All the players leapt, in that ungainly way that kids jump around in excitement, skipping and hugging each other as they ran toward home plate, all to celebrate an elusive state title. 

This was a fairy-tale team. This was a championship team. 

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Football

Football: Friday night scoreboard

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Final Tampa Bay Tech 21, Wharton 12

Final St. Petersburg Catholic 47, Bishop McLaughlin 15

Final Gibbs 50, Gulf 21

Final Countryside 28, Sunlake 7\

Final Berkeley Prep 49, New Orleans Newman 24

Final Zephyrhills Christian 30, Bradenton Christian 7

Final Boca Ciega 28, Seminole 21

Final Lakeland Christian 38, Calvary Christian 13

Final Clearwater 48, Tarpon Springs 7

Final Clearwater Central Catholic 56, Kissimmee Gateway 0

Final Northeast 21, Hollins 20

Final Sumner 14, Braden River 10

Final Legacy Charter 21, Indian Rocks Christian 14

Final Mount Dora Christian 48, Keswick Christian 0

Final Seffner Christian 62, St. Joseph Academy 16

Final Zephyrhills 35, Nature Coast 0

Final Largo 25, Sickles 7

Final Osceola 48, St. Petersburg 9

Final Steinbrenner 35, Chamberlain 21

Final Carrollwood Day 42, Cambridge Christian 7

Final Tampa Catholic 38, Winter Haven 0

Final Land O’ Lakes 36, Pasco 0

Final Jesuit 44, Blake 0

Final Armwood 41, Wiregrass Ranch 11

Final Palmetto 23, Bloomingdale 3

4th Q Alonso 52, Robinson 17

Final Plant City 31, Plant 24

Final Wesley Chapel 44, Hudson 6

Final Newsome 55, Riverview 7

Final Pinellas Park 46, Palm Harbor University 0

Final Fivay 27, Freedom 25

Final Bradenton Manatee 29, East Bay 13

Final Dunedin 48, Anclote 22

Final Spoto 46, Brandon 0

Final Durant 49, Middleton 6

Final Cypress Creek 43, Weeki Wachee 0

Final Lennard 33, Jefferson 31

Final Gaither 48, Leto 7

Final McCallie (Tenn.) 47, Clearwater Academy 14

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The Hillsborough County Football Player of the Week

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LB/S Cole Highsmith, Jr., Plant City

After becoming a starter as a sophomore last season, Cole Highsmith took on a more prominent role as one of the leaders of Plant City’s defense. 

He took on that task by making play after play. 

This season, Highsmith has recorded 73 tackles and six sacks. Those totals already surpassed what he ended up with last year. 

Against Bloomingdale two weeks ago, Highsmith had 13 tackles, two sacks and an interception to lead the Raiders to victory. 

Fans paid attention. Highsmith received 50 percent of the votes (746) in the Hillsborough County football player of the week poll to beat out Wharton’s Daveon Crouch, who had 25 percent (376 votes). 

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Thursday night football forecast

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Seffner Christian (2-3) at St. Petersburg Catholic (3-3), 7

After starting 2-0, the visiting Crusaders have lost three straight. The host Barons, meanwhile, have rebounded from a 1-2 start to win two of their last three games. 

Putnam’s prediction: St. Petersburg Catholic 30-28

Gibbs (3-3) at Tarpon Springs (3-3), 7

An important Class 5A, District 10 game for both teams not only to stay in the mix for a title but also to get above .500 for the season. 

Putnam’s prediction: Gibbs 34-21 

Clearwater (5-1) at Anclote (1-5), 7:30

The Tornadoes have won five straight and are the clear favorite to the Class 5A, District 10 title. The host Sharks are on a two-game losing streak. 

Putnam’s prediction: Clearwater 42-7

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