By Jordan Kroeger, SunCoast Sports
NORTH PORT — Through four innings Thursday night, North Port went pitch-for-pitch with not only one of the best teams in the state, but the entire country.
Lakewood Ranch entered the night ranked No. 2 in the state in Miracle Sports latest state rankings and No. 1 in the state by MaxPreps, which also ranks the school ninth in the nation.
But the Bobcats held the highly touted Mustangs scoreless until the fifth inning before the visitors eventually pulled away in the sixth on their way to a 6-1 victory at the Preserve.
Despite the loss, North Port coach Dennis Bell was proud of his group, considering just two nights earlier it was defeated 10-0 by eighth-ranked Fort Myers.
“Coming off the Fort Myers game, it could have gotten ugly real quick knowing what (Lakewood Ranch) is all about. The girls came out and competed,” Bell said. “If the ball falls a couple of different ways, if we get a run across in the first inning, it may have been a different game.”
Taylor Woodring and Princeton commit Mackenzie Meyer each drove in two runs for the Mustangs off of North Port starter Nadia Playter. Woodring’s two-RBI double put Lakewood Ranch up 3-0 in the fifth and Meyer crushed a two-run homer in the sixth to finish off the scoring.
Playter suffered the loss in 5.2 innings of work, giving up four earned runs on seven hits and five walks to go along with three strikeouts. But it took Lakewood Ranch’s lineup awhile to figure out Playter, who worked out of multiple jams through four scoreless innings, which included runners in scoring position in the first, third and fourth.
The Mustangs finally struck in the fifth when Kailey Christian led off with a double and later scored on a fielder’s choice by Avery Goelz.
“Nadia hasn’t really been on the mound a lot this year so for her to come out and go up against this team and hold them at bay until the fifth,” Bell said. “I mean, if someone had told me we’d be 1-0 against Lakewood Ranch in the fifth inning I probably wouldn’t have believed them. The girls came out and played great.”
The game got away from Playter in the fifth as she faced eight batters before eventually being replaced by Liberty Pence. Playter walked Morgan Cummins to begin the frame, and after getting a strikeout, gave up a single to Meyer.
Both runners stole second and third base before it looked as if Playter might get out of the inning unscathed. She got Maddie Koczersut to ground into a fielder’s choice, with Cummins getting thrown out at the plate for the second out. But Woodring followed with her two-run double and later scored on one of North Port’s two errors in the game.
“Seeing the pitcher after a few innings and being able to get her timing and having a better since of our goal at the plate and situational hitting really helped us,” Lakewood Ranch coach Maggie Feix said. “When we’re down two outs we never give up and that’s something we set the tone in our season early on and that’s how we opened up and that’s how we want to continue, to never give up, especially with two outs.”
North Port scored its only run off of Lakewood Ranch starter Madi LoCastro in the bottom of the sixth on Cortney Senna’s run-scoring single. LoCastro pitched a complete game, striking out four while giving up six hits.
Logan Newton reached base on an error in the seventh to set up Meyer’s two-run home run off of Pence.
LAKEWOOD RANCH 6, NORTH PORT 1
Lakewood Ranch 000 013 2 — 6 8 0
North Port 000 001 0 — 1 6 2
WP: Madi LoCastro; LP: Nadia Playter. Leading hitters: (LR) Mackenzie Meyer 2-4, HR, 2 RBI, 2 R; Taylor Woodring 2-4, 2B, 2 RBI, R; (NP) Cortney Senna 1-3, RBI; Kyle Murray 2-3. Records: Lakewood Ranch 14-1, North Port 10-6.