Losing in the big game is always a tough pill to swallow, but it’s always tougher when you fail to take advantage in pivotal moments of the game.
Those kind of moments — base-running errors and lack of quality situational hitting — plagued Windermere Prep just about all night during the Lakers’ 4-3 loss at the hands of Academy of the Holy Names (19-5), who walked it off in the bottom of the seventh inning to claim the FHSAA Class 3A state title game in Clermont Thursday, May 20.
Despite out hitting the Jaguars 14 to 7, Windermere Prep (25-2) struggled with missed opportunities — even though the Lakers came out of the gate by scoring two runs in the top of the first inning thanks to a fielder’s choice that saw Mia Williams score, before Madison Workman brought in Meredith Workman to make it 2-0.
“We jumped on them early and got a couple of runs, which is what we wanted to do, because they’re used to jumping on other teams and I think getting on them early was key in momentum,” said Lakers head coach Wes Pollock. “But we had other opportunities during the course of the middle innings where we don’t get bunts down, and if we get those bunts down we probably score one or two more runs and that didn’t happen.”
Throughout the game the Lakers left nine runners on base, which included a bases-loaded situation in the top of the third inning and multiple inning where the Lakers had at least two runners on. That struggle, along with getting its biggest hits with two outs and barely missing on pop flies made things difficult for Windermere Prep.
After keeping AHN off the board for four innings — thanks to Gracie Wallace’s pitching prowess — the Jaguars finally got their offense going with back-to-back RBI singles with two outs to tie the game at 2-2. From there on out it was back-and-forth before Piper Hofmann drilled a hard ground ball to center field to score Zoie Pistel to give the Lakers a 4-3 lead.
“We’ve dodged bullets … and I thought when Piper got that key hit in the top of the seventh that we were going to somehow figure out a way to dodge another bullet, but (AHN) had made some adjustments — I think — on Gracie the last couple of innings,” Pollock said. “They were starting to hit the ball harder and I think those outs were harder to get.”
The Jaguars had figured things out, and it ultimately showed in the bottom of the seventh when — following a single and a walk with no outs — AHN’s Annabelle Sardja doubled on a line drive to center to score two in walk-off fashion to end the game.
“It’s heartbreaking, it’s disappointing and it’ll sting for a while, but again our kids fought all year round,” Pollock said. “It’s a tough pill to swallow, but I loved the way they fought.”
Despite the loss, the Lakers season was one filled with many firsts — including going from having an empty trophy cabinet to filling it with a district, regional and state runner-up trophy. And if there is more good news to add, it’s that the team will be returning some big pieces next year in players like Wallace, Madison Carr, Hofmann and Williams.
“We’ve never won a district champion and never won a regional championship, so to win both this year and go to the state championship game is monumental for our school,” Pollock said. “We have a good core in place that’s returning — we’re going to lose a few good seniors for sure — but there is a good core in place and I think we’ll be competitive next year. Now that they've tasted success and what it takes to win, hopefully that'll make them better players and just as hungry next year.”