Belleview Rattlers edge Dunnellon Tigers in quarterfinals

Belleview’s Emily Pearce (10) scores as she slides past the tag of Dunnellon’s catcher Cameron Darnell (14) during the 4A regional quarterfinal at Belleview High School in Belleview on Wednesday. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]

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Posted May 6, 2021 | By Ainslie Lee,

Belleview’s Emily Pearce (10) scores as she slides past the tag of Dunnellon’s catcher Cameron Darnell (14) during the 4A regional quarterfinal at Belleview High School in Belleview on Wednesday. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]

Dunnellon senior Cameron Darnell blasted a leadoff homerun in the top of the first inning against the Belleview Rattlers on Wednesday — marking the first run the Rattlers had given up in two games.It was a shock to the Rattlers and senior pitcher Lauren Reimsnyder, who had pitched eight straight perfect innings across the previous two contests.

“She hit the home run that kinda punched us in our mouth a little,” Belleview head coach Gary Greer said of Darnell. “And for some reason, her hit affected our at-bats because we’ve been hitting like crazy.”

In Belleview’s last two games, the Rattlers posted 25 runs behind 22 hits. But on Wednesday night their bats went cold and the Rattlers had to scratch their way to a 3-2 victory over the Tigers in the Class 4A regional quarterfinal at Belleview’s Venom Field.

Following Darnell’s shot in the top of the first inning, the Tigers continued to threaten Reimsnyder and the Rattlers.

After Reimsnyder walked Dunnellon senior Courtney Desena, the Tigers got back-to-back singles from senior Maggie Williams and sophomore Macie Dewitz to load the bases. But Reimsnyder dished a pair of strikeouts to get out of the jam and keep the score at 1-0.

Reimsnyder and Desena, Dunnellon’s ace, traded blows in a pitcher’s duel in the second and third innings, maintaining the Tigers’ one-run advantage.

“Their pitcher did a great job,” Greer said. “We tip our hats to her. She made us stress out more than we need to be.”

It wasn’t until the bottom of the fourth inning that the offense-driven Rattlers struck.

Despite already having two outs, freshman designated player Lynnay Howard notched the first hit of the game for the Rattlers with a double to left field. Belleview’s senior first baseman, Brooke Butcher, immediately drove in the run from second to knot the game up at one run apiece.

“Howard has just been on fire for us,” Greer said. “She’s batting .500. She’s now up to 40 at-bats and is like 20-for-40. We didn’t bat her the first six or seven, so there was maybe some bad coaching going on there… She’s worked her way into the lineup and she did what you’re supposed to do. When someone opens the door for you to get into the lineup, she hasn’t let them get back in.”

A scoreless fifth frame preceded the game-deciding sixth inning.

With one out, Dunnellon seniors Megan Kerrick and Destiny Bealer each notched singles to put two runners on the basepath for fellow senior Leanne Sonneberger, who put down a sacrifice bunt to plate Kerrick for a 2-1 lead.

But the Rattlers weren’t retreating.

Belleview junior Emily Pearce ignited the Rattlers’ sixth-inning rally with a lead-off single. Looking to advance Pearce into scoring position, Greer called on Reimsnyder to put a bunt into play.

However, Reimsnyder’s two bunt attempts dribbled foul and put her behind 0-2 in the count. But the pressure didn’t get to Reimsnyder, who sent the 0-2 offering into centerfield, advancing Pearce to second, who immediately advanced to third after the relay throw bounced off of her back and got away from Dunnellon’s infielders.

Howard would go on to drive Pearce home for her second RBI of the game, while Belleview freshman Jordan McLaughlin sent a sacrifice hit into play, plating what would end up being the winning run for the Rattlers.

Down 3-2 in the seventh inning, with Darnell up to bat for the Tigers, the Rattlers quickly recalled the image of Darnell’s early jab leaving the park and walked Dunnellon’s right fielder, which brought the winning run to the plate for the Tigers.

Sophomore K’mari Williams sent a line drive screaming down the third-base line, where Belleview third baseman Kylah Gardner nabbed it for the out and threw back to first catching Darnell off the bag for the 5-3 double play.

“That double play was huge. And Kylah would be the perfect person to make that play,” Greer said. “Not one error at third base (all season), which is pretty impossible to do in high school softball when you’re in the hot corner. That’s amazing.”

Reimsnyder went on to strikeout her pitching counterpart, Desena, for the final out and the win.

The Dunnellon Tigers finished their 2021 campaign 11-13, while the Rattlers advanced in the playoffs and will battle Citrus (15-9) on May 11 at 7 p.m. The location of the game is yet to be determined.

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