FORT BRADEN — The Naples Rockets 9-10 All-Star softball team saw nearly everything it could Tuesday — a morning semifinal game before an afternoon final, a 25-minute rain delay and nine innings of nail-biting softball.
They just didn't see themselves on the winning side of the title game.
The Rockets' quest for a second state title ended with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, as a high throw to first scored Plant City's Alexena Arnold from third base and give Plant City a 2-1 win at Fort Braden Community Park.
"We knew they were going to come out hard and they wanted to beat us," Rockets coach Jon Strohmeyer said as he, other coaches and parents consoled teary-eyed players. "They got a couple of breaks and came out on top."
Those two runs were the first runs scored on the Rockets this season. They had outscored their opponents 50-0 going into Tuesday night's game.
Both teams had chances to end the game earlier. Naples had runners at third in the sixth and eighth innings and couldn't bring them home. Plant City , who lost to Naples in the final game of pool play Sunday, had two runners at third in the seventh.
Plant City and Naples both scored one run in the first, fighting through raindrops and the slick conditions that came with them. Haleigh Ross's groundout in the top of the first scored Emily Gray for Naples. In the bottom of the first, Plant City's Brooke Freeman scored Kristen Wycoff on a sacrifice bunt.
Following the rain delay between the second and third innings, both teams settled down.
"A lot of the girls were strung out at the beginning of the game," Strohmeyer said. "I just told them during the delay that we were starting a new game and we fought hard."
Lindsey Lindheim and Jordan Nugent kept Plant City at bay until the bottom of the ninth, but the most impressive pitching performance came from Freeman, daughter of Plant City coach Jeff Freeman. She started at shortstop and came in for starting pitcher Wycoff after Wycoff pitched her six-inning limit.
Freeman pitched the seventh, eighth and ninth innings and struck out eight batters.
"It was just amazing for a 9-year-old to come out and do that," Jeff Freeman said.
Ross and Kirby Joyner both collected two hits in the title game for Naples.
The Rockets trounced Eustis 12-0 in the Tuesday morning semifinals, moved from Monday night due to rain. Ross, one of eight Rockets to get a hit against Eustis, led the team with two hits and three RBIs. The Rockets' three pitchers — Lindheim, Nugent and Joyner, combined for a one-hitter.
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