PALMETTO — Braden River High pitcher Trisha Zuknick thrives under pressure.
She wants to be in control, and she’s the one the Lady Pirates turn to when the game is on the line.
Since transferring from Cardinal Mooney, the junior has been instrumental in leading the Braden River softball team to its second-consecutive undefeated district season, posting a 12-3 regular season record and a perfect 10-0 district record.
So it was no surprise when Zuknick pitched back-to-back games for Braden River in the Class 4A-District 10 tournament April 23-24 at Palmetto High.
“When she has a few days rest, she’s a tremendous pitcher,” coach Doug Powell said. “She’s the kind of player who gets up for these occasions.
“She’s a pressure pitcher,” he added. “She likes the pressure. She thrives on it, and it really raises her game. She’s the one we go to (in those types of situations).”
Zuknick pitched 12 solid innings for Braden River, allowing one run on seven hits while striking out 14 over the span of two games, as the Lady Pirates defeated Palmetto 9-1 and Sebring 6-1 to earn their second consecutive district title.
“Throughout the whole week we’ve been training really hard for this; and I think it was the fact that our coaches really believe in us and they really believe in me and what I can do to help this team,” said Zuknick who boasts a 1.29 ERA and 122 strikeouts on the season. “Before the (Palmetto) game coach Doug (Powell) was like you’ve taken us this far. The game is in your hands right now.”
After earning a first-round bye, the top-seeded Lady Pirates faced Palmetto in a district semifinal April 23. Braden River shut out Palmetto 4-0 and 15-0 in the teams’ two previous meetings, and once again the Lady Pirates handled the Tigers with ease.
Braden River took an early 2-0 lead in the bottom of the second when Brooke Ribarich hit a sacrifice fly to center field to drive in Zuknick. The Lady Pirates sealed the deal with a four-run rally in the bottom of the fifth. Katie Gardner led the way at the plate for Braden River, going 2-for-3 with a walk, an RBI and a pair of stolen bases. Lauren Powell followed, going 2-for-4 with a stolen base and a pair of runs scored.
“We took it a little easy; I think they needed some downtime to refresh and get back on their feet,” Powell said. “It’s been a little bit of a grind. We did everything we could to get their minds where they should be and to stress the importance of the games from here on out.”
The Lady Pirates carried that momentum and motivation into the district final April 24 against rival Sebring. After giving up a run in the top of the first inning, Zuknick settled into her rotation and the Lady Pirates’ started to come alive.
But it wasn’t power hitting or extra base hits that proved to be the difference for Braden River. Instead it was the Lady Pirates’ ability to bunt the ball that ultimately allowed them to win the game.
With the game tied and the bases loaded in the bottom of the third inning, senior Cara Pogan stepped to the plate and hit a bunt that bounced directly in front of home plate. It should’ve been an easy out, but after a series of miscues by the Blue Streaks, Pogan found herself on third base and the Lady Pirates had a 5-1 lead. Braden River added another run in the fourth inning to preserve the victory.
“Everyone was fired up and ready to go, and we wanted this bad,” Lauren Powell said. “They’ve been our rivals for a long time, and to come out here and beat them that bad really means something.
“It feels so good,” she added. “The first one is always the best, but just the fact that we did it again really means something and our team has a lot of potential and I think we’re going to go really far this year.”
With the win, Braden River hosted Bartow in a regional quarterfinal April 28.
Contact Jen Blanco at email@example.com.
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