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North downs Mariner to claim fourth straight district softball title

May 8, 2019
By CJ HADDAD ( , North Fort Myers Neighbor

In a game that took nine innings to decide, the North Fort Myers softball team captured yet another District 6A-11 championship over Mariner, 6-4 -- the Red Knights' fourth consecutive district crown.

The most anticipated pitchers duel of the district championships did not disappoint Thursday evening, as North's Emma Johnson took the circle against Mariner's Hannah Holloway.

Both seniors pitched brilliantly, though it was Johnson and the Red Knights (18-10) that would find a way to come back from an early 3-0 defect to claim the title on the road.

Article Photos

North Fort Myers senior Emma Johnson bats during the Red Knights' district championship win over Mariner Thursday night. To view more photos from the game, see the North Fort Myers Neighbor Facebook page.


Mariner (19-8) scored one run in the first and two in the third to jump ahead 3-0 early on. A throwing error by North plated the run in the first, followed by an RBI double from Holloway and RBI single from Alexis Baker in the third.

The Red Knights would answer with three of their own in the top of the fourth as Kirsten Gnagey, Frankie Hertzog and Haley Weaver would all come around to score.

Weaver was a force from the leadoff spot all night, going 4-for-6 with an RBI double.

The two pitchers traded scoreless frames in the fifth until Mariner catcher Kennedy Burnam led off the bottom of the sixth inning with a double. She would come around to score via a throwing error from North's catcher.

Mariner was poised to take the title on its home field, needing only three outs to go, but the Red Knights would be adamant about fighting back.

Johnson reached base on an error to lead off the seventh when North head coach Jeff Miner pinch ran for his pitcher with Samantha Flecha, who was a perfect 9-for-9 on stolen base attempts coming into the game -- she would end the game perfect as well.

Flecha stole second base before Johnson was reasserted in the line-up. A groundout to Holloway moved Johnson to third with one out. A grounder by Sydney Morris to second scored Johnson and the tying run.

Mariner could not plate a run in the bottom half on the inning, so it was on to extra innings for the teams.

No runs were scored in the eighth, but things were about to change in the ninth.

Johnson once again led off the inning, this time with a single. In came Flecha who stole second on the first pitch. Johnson came right back in following the stolen bag.

A sacrifice bunt from Sarah Giompalo put Johnson at third and Alexis Morris then drove her in on a single. A walk from Holloway to Hertzog with the bases loaded gave North an all-important insurance run going into the bottom of the ninth.

A leadoff walk to Holloway in the bottom half on the frame was quickly erased when Jamie Jarvis hit a sharp line drive back to Johnson, who quickly doubled-up Holloway at first, as Mariner went from a runner on first with no out, to no one on and two out.

Mariner did put on a few other base runners, but could not plate any.

North celebrated after a fly out to right field that saw the four-peat become reality.

Each senior pitcher left it all out on the field, both going all nine innings and getting it done at the plate, too.

Johnson gave up four runs, two earned, walking five and striking out seven. She also scored the tying and game-winning runs on the bases.

Holloway surrendered six runs, four earned, walking three and striking out six.

"They're a fantastic team," Miner said of Mariner. "Their pitcher was outstanding. We were able to hang on and pick up two (in the ninth)."

When it mattered most, Miner relied on small-ball to see the game come out in the defending champs favor.

"We had to lay some bunts down, get some players in scoring position and hopefully get that clutch hit and score some runs," Miner said. "Started with a base hit, bring in our little speedster, steal a bag, bring our veteran back -- the power of the bunt. We told kids during the year, if we can't bunt, we can't compete against better teams."

There was never any doubt in Johnson's mind that North wouldn't get it done on that night.

"We showed a lot of guts throughout the game. We were down in the beginning, which shows a lot about us that we came back. Even though we had some miscommunication in the infield at the beginning of the game, we came back on base running, defense, hitting and clutch plays."

After she came across to score the tying run in the seventh, they never looked back.

"Everyone was anxious in the dugout cheering each other on when we were down 4-3," Johnson said. "Once (Sydney) tied the game at four, we knew we were going to get it done."

North will look to continue to get things done in the opening round of the regional Wednesday night at home against Lely. First pitch is scheduled for 7 p.m.

Mariner will take on District 6A-12 champs Immokalee on the road Wednesday night at 7 p.m.

-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj



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