ST. AMANT – The easy inclination after Live Oak’s 2019 season ended Friday evening with an 8-1 loss at fourth-seeded St. Amant in the first round of the Class 5A state playoffs was one of disappointment.
But once the dark cloud subsides and the program looks ahead to next season the Lady Eagles, who will be playing in a new on-campus facility with artificial turf, can see a bright future.
“Having a team with freshmen that got to experience this will help us,” Live Oak sophomore first baseman Emma Trippi said. “We’ll have a lot of freshmen coming up, so I see a lot of potential for our team in the upcoming seasons.”
Live Oak (12-19) is set to return all of its starters except program pillar catcher Brett Leiva – a West Florida signee - from a youthful team that endured a bumpy season that ended with six consecutive defeats.
Both pitchers – Emalea Dimaio and Sophia Foster – who pitched against St. Amant, also figure to bolster the Lady Eagles’ chances.
“With Brett, you saw improvement every single year and her role got bigger and we’re going to miss her,” Live Oak coach Michelle Morris said. “But we have a good nucleus coming back. We’ll take this, try and remember it, work on it in the offseason and take it with us next season.”
Part of the positive No. 29 Live Oak can draw from its postseason experience is being locked in a scoreless game with St. Amant through three innings.
Dimaio was effective in being able to get her team out of consecutive bases-loaded jams in both the first and second innings.
“We thought in the first two innings when we did stop them that we stopped some momentum,” Morris said. “It gave us some confidence.”
Live Oak showed just how much softball can be a game of inches in taking a 1-0 lead in the top of fourth.
Katie Vandermark picked up Live Oak’s third hit of the game – turning a bunt attempt into a lead-off double against St. Amant’s winning pitcher Alyssa Romano.
Vandermark’s hit to the right side of the infield turned favorable when Romano and first baseman Naylie Rodriguez collided near the first-base line, where the live ball caromed into foul territory and enabled Vandermark to hustle into second with a double.
Emma Brooks moved Vandermark to third with a sacrifice bunt and Trippi delivered a run-scoring single just inside the line in right field.
“Being a four seed and them 29, to be able to hold them was big,” Trippi said. “We all just came together as a team and it really helped us out.”
St. Amant (24-2-1) didn’t allow Live Oak to enjoy its one-run lead for very long.
After leaving the bases load in the first two innings, the Lady Gators batted around for a seven-run fourth inning, sending 13 batters to the plate against Dimaio and Foster.
The Lady Gators took the lead for good during a two-run sequence that began with a wild pitch on ball four to Romano, enabling the tying run to score from third.
On the same play, with Romano running to first base, Live Oak committed its lone error on a throw that got away at first base, allowing St. Amant, which had four of its nine hits in the frame, to score a second run and take the lead for good.
Dimaio, who had four of her seven walks in the inning, hit a batter with the bases loaded to force in another run, while St. Amant picked up run-scoring hits from Kelsi Martine, Payton Granier – a hot smash that ricocheted off Dimaio – and Rylee Rossi’s RBI-single that greeted Foster.
“They’re a good team and you think they’re going to explode at some point,” Morris said. “When we got through the first two innings, we felt more self-assured, but we’ve got to back it up with some hitting.”
Live Oak, which had five hits through four innings, only had one base runner the rest of the game against the hard-throwing Romano, a left-hander who walked two and struck out 10.
“Other than one inning,” Trippi said, “we did amazing adjusting at the plate and our defense was on and so was our pitching.”