The Viera Hawks overcame two major hurdles Tuesday night.
The first was not letting the moment get too big for them.
That led to the second hurdle, going on the road and getting past the Melbourne Bulldogs in the Class 6A, Region 2 semifinals with a 3-0 victory.
Sophomore pitcher Skylar Waggoner had a big night, allowing just two hits over seven innings with a Viera defense playing flawlessly behind her and an offense that came up big in key moments.
Now the Hawks (16-6) are moving on to the regional final, where they will take on the Durant Cougars (18-2), who defeated Bartow 2-1 Tuesday night. The regional final is scheduled for Friday at 7 p.m. at Durant.
“I’ve coached a lot of physically talented teams, but none of them have been able to get over that mental hurdle of when the pressure’s on and that moment hits … they let the moment get to them and they get sped up,” Viera coach Alex Breeden said.
“This is the first team that’s conquered that moment, and it shows. They had success because of it. They grew up against Seminole Ridge (in the regional quarterfinals) and they got to prove it with the opportunity they got because of that.”
Melbourne (25-3) came in ranked No. 15 in the state and No. 5 in Class 6A by MaxPreps. The Bulldogs had won 19 games in a row, had already beaten Viera twice this season – including the district final -- and had outscored their opponents 214-22 through their first 27 games.
That’s a lot to overcome.
“To lose to them twice and come in with that fearlessness to not be afraid to make an error … to go in with our family, it was amazing to have an amazing game with them,” senior third baseman Morgan Mordas said. “And Skylar did amazing.”
Waggoner, who threw a perfect game in Viera’s 3-0 quarterfinal win against Seminole Ridge, found herself in a classic pitching dual with Melbourne freshman Jazzy Francik. The Viera lefty struck out four and didn’t walk a batter despite falling behind in the count several times. She was on her game all night.
“Every time playing them, it’s going to be a battle, but that mental hurdle that we all jumped today … it really kicked in and you could tell that we were here to play,” Waggoner said.
“I know I have to pitch every game, so I just try to come into every game with that mental intensity that I need to win.”
Melbourne hit the ball hard several times, but Viera’s defense – particularly shortstop Anna Brait and right fielder Jaydin Gentile – made the play time and again.
“We’ve been working a lot in practice with mentalities and just talking to each other, letting each other know if we make an error let it go, still be fearless,” Mordas said. “Don’t be afraid to make an error. We’ll have your back. Just keep going. We’ll get the hits. It will be OK.”
Francik, who struck out 12 on the night and 277 on the season, threw a brilliant game but wasn’t helped out by four Melbourne errors.
One of those errors came in the fourth inning when Brait and Mordas led off the inning with back-to-back singles. After Viera loaded the bases with one out, a Melbourne error allowed the Hawks to score the game’s first run.
Viera would make it 2-0 in the sixth when Mordas and Jace Jackson hit back-to-back doubles.
In the top of the seventh, Gentile reached on an infield single, went to third on a single by Sylvia Burroughs – her second hit of the night – and scored on Brait’s sacrifice fly.
Waggoner, meanwhile, got into a jam in the second inning when Melbourne put two runners on with one out, but got out of it with a strikeout and a fly ball to Gentile in right.
It was a much different outing for the Viera pitcher than the district final, where Breeden said the moment got to the Hawks’ star pitcher. Well, that certainly wasn’t the case Tuesday night.
“I think that (district championship game) experience helped her,” Breeden said of Waggoner.
“This moment got loud. There were a lot of people screaming. There were a lot of those sorts of moments and none of them were too much for her. She constantly was asking, ‘How do I look? Do I look composed? Does the moment look too big for me?’
“She knew that’s what she had to make her adjustment on and she did and the girls fed off it.”
Waggoner got a little help from Viera sophomore catcher Maddie Ford, who came to the mound for a pep talk every time the count would reach 2-0. And every time, Waggoner was able to right herself and work out of trouble.
“We generally do two pitches, but I told her at the beginning of the game, ‘Hey, if you see me throw two balls, just come out, tell me to breathe, give me a little shake it out and you’ve got this,’” Waggoner said.
“I need my catcher behind me the entire time, which she was 100 percent. I just need that little sense of security. Sometimes, people get a little nervous and I think that really helped me calm myself down and defeat Melbourne.”
One thing was clear about the Hawks Tuesday night … this team was locked in from beginning to end. And that’s what it’s going to take if Viera wants to get back to the state final four for the second time in program history.
“I think we stayed high on that adrenaline the whole game,” Waggoner said. “We never really gave up moments like we have before. This game really showed what we are as a team and how far we can go in the state championship (tournament).”
Mordas, the Hawks only senior, was a freshman on the last Viera team that went to the final four. And while she is certainly hoping to get a chance to do it again, Tuesday night’s win gave her another thrilling memory to add to her career.
“I love this team and I will always remember this game,” she said.