Viera comes through in clutch to beat Melbourne for district softball title
Hawks are back-to-back champs
The Viera High Hawks are Class 7A, District 6 champions for the second year in a row following Thursday night's 2-0 win over Melbourne.
VIERA VOICE Carl Kotala
The Viera Hawks came up big in the game’s biggest moments Thursday night at Heritage High School.
That’s why they can now call themselves the back-to-back Class 7A, District 6 champions.
Karyana Mitchell got out of a bases loaded jam, striking out the final batter in the top of the seventh inning to give Viera a 2-0 victory over Melbourne in a game filled with drama and an outstanding defensive performance by the Hawks.
Viera (18-7) will host either Deltona (15-5) or Matanzas (18-4) from District 5 in the regional quarterfinals Wednesday night at 7 at the USSSA Complex. The District 5 championship game was rained out Thursday and rescheduled for Monday night.
The Hawks will get the loser of the Deltona-Matanzas game, while the Melbourne Bulldogs (22-5) will travel to play the winner.
While Viera waits to see who it’s next opponent will be, the Hawks can take a little satisfaction in knowing they can add another district championship trophy to their collection.
“It’s super nice,” senior catcher Taylor Jensen said. “I was nervous in the beginning of the season because our team is so young. But since the beginning of the season until now, we’ve grown so much.
“We’re so much better. We’ll go pretty far this year.”
The Hawks, who start four freshmen and one sophomore, played a brutal schedule this season that included two defending state champions and two teams ranked in the top five in the state. It was all to get them ready for games and situations like they faced Thursday night.
Freshman second baseman Anna Brait made a nice catch on a line drive, which she then turned into a double play to help Viera get out of the top of the first.
Viera would score both of its runs in the bottom of the inning with the help of a double by Jensen, a run-scoring sacrifice fly by sophomore Morgan Mordas and an RBI double by senior Corrin Flajole to take a 2-0 lead.
Melbourne, however, was not about to fade into the night.
The Bulldogs had two runners on in the top of the third when Flajole – who had made a nice running catch in foul territory earlier in the inning – tracked a ball that appeared to be going over her head. Her catch easily saved a run and ended the threat.
Melbourne threatened again in the top of the fourth, with two on, two out and a line drive to left field that appeared to be sinking toward the grass until Viera freshman Jace Jackson snared it for another huge inning-ending out.
“They came out ready tonight,” Mitchell said of her defense. “I loved every minute of it.”
After getting through the fifth and the sixth innings, only the top of the seventh inning stood between the Hawks and the district championship.
That’s when, naturally, a little extra drama was added to the night in the form of a 45-minute lightning delay.
Once the teams resumed play, Mitchell would get the first out of the inning, but then Melbourne made things interesting – again – by loading the bases with two outs.
A base hit could drive in a run, or even tie the game. An error, well, that could put the Hawks in at least a 3-2 hole. And a walk, well, that would make it a 2-1 game and really ramp up the drama.
Mitchell’s first two pitches were balls, bringing Taylor out from behind the plate to talk to the junior pitcher.
“I just told her pretty much that she’s a stud, that she can get this girl out and she needs to not worry about it.” Jensen said.
The count went 3-0.
“I’m thinking, ‘OK, Karyana, you need hit your spot and you need to buckle down for your team right now so we can win districts,’” Mitchell said.
The count went 3-1. Then 3-2. And then, finally, Mitchell went up in the zone and got a swinging strikeout to give the Hawks the title.
“I was like, ‘Thank God,’” Mitchell laughed. “District champs.”
Mitchell, who allowed five hits, finished the night with seven strikeouts.
Freshman Jaydin Gentile had two of Viera’s six hits.
And if ever there was a game that screamed team victory, it was this one.
From Mitchell’s work on the mound, to Jensen’s behind the plate, the strong infield play of freshman Hailey Mix at first, Brait at second, freshman Delilah Datta at short, Mordas at third and the outfield play of Jackson, junior Taryn Aebli and Flajole, the Hawks came up big in crucial times Thursday night.
Earlier this season, Viera’s defense was shaky to say the least, but it was spot on Thursday night.
“We’ve been working every day and we just keep getting stronger at practice thanks to our coaches,” Mitchell said. “We came out tonight fired up.”
Viera’s Alex Breeden, who has now won district titles in each of her two seasons as coach of the Hawks, believes the team is starting to peak at just the right time.
“Games like that, and putting ourselves in the position for that type of competition showed tonight,” Breeden said. “It was almost an identical kind of thing where it’s the seventh inning, the game’s on the line … a few games (earlier this season), we folded.
“This game, we didn’t. I think it’s just experience and us being in that position and knowing that they’ve worked their butt off and they earned it.”
With the district championship now in hand, the Hawks are looking to repeat last year’s run that led them to the state final four. Only this time, they want to be the last team standing.
“We are peaking,” Breeden said. “We’re all cylinders going in the right direction right now. We’re right where we need to be.”