Solo battles illness, tosses extra-inning win over Park Vista as Western gets back to softball final four

DAVIE — Kendall Butter’s sacrifice fly in the bottom of the ninth inning scored Gia Solano from third base to give host Western a come-from-behind 4-3 victory over Park Vista in the Class 7A regional final on Friday night.

Junior Ali Solo, who has battled a cold all week, improved to 17-4 as she pitched a complete game, scattered four hits, and struck out one for the state’s top-ranked Class 7A. She also walked six and hit two batters. It came just three days after the Wildcats knocked defending state champion Spanish River 10-5 out in the regional semifinals after trailing 5-1 in that contest.

Western will face Jupiter in one state semifinal on Friday at 10 a.m. at Legends Way Ballfields in Clermont, while Windermere will take on Seminole at 11:15 a.m. in the other semifinal.

“Although I didn’t feel well, I just powered through it,” said Solo, who was able to get out of bases-loaded jams in the third, fourth, and ninth innings. “Against Spanish River, I was throwing up and then running out of the dugout to pitch. I think we are going to end up on top.

“The one thing about us is we are always going to come back, and we are never going to stay behind,” Solo said. “Our girls wanted this so bad and even though we were behind, we knew we were going to come out this way. Honestly, we had faith in each other. I have never clicked with a team like this before in my life.”

Park Vista went up 3-2 in the top of the ninth inning on an RBI single by Angeline Mergen and Western took its only lead of the game on an RBI single by Emma Moser and Butter’s sacrifice fly to center.

“It’s a lot of hard work and people don’t know how much hard work is put into this,” said Western coach John Bradshaw. “We preach to them all of the time and they believe it, we’re never down. As long as there is one out left in the last inning, we are still battling. We were down 5-1 against Spanish River, the defending state champions and we scored nine unanswered (runs). There is no quit in them.

“It shows the heart and determination that Ali has,” Bradshaw added. “Even though she has been sick, she wanted the ball and as my number one, I gave it to her. She’s a blessing. Coaches around the country would love to have 11 Ali Solos.”

Park Vista (18-7) took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first when Nicole Mergen led off with a walk and was replaced by courtesy runner Hannah Durante, who moved to second on a ground out and advanced to third on a passed ball. She scored on a sacrifice by Savanna Latone.

The Cobras made it 2-0 in the third when Nicole Mergen led off with a walk and was replaced by Durante who went to second on a groundout and over to third on a single by Angeline Mergen and scored on a sacrifice fly by Latone.

Western (25-4-1) cut the deficit in half in the bottom of the fourth when Jade Castillo reached on an error and moved to second on a wild pitch. She came around to score when Butter reached on an error.

Danae Falquez tied the game at 2-2 when she drilled a 2-1 pitch over the left field fence to lead off the bottom of the sixth inning. It was her sixth home run of the season.

Western had defeated Park Vista 6-5 on Feb. 29.

Western has won five straight since a 10-3 loss to Coral Springs Charter in the BCAA Big 8 championship. Park Vista had won two straight since a 6-2 loss to the defending state champion Spanish River in the district final.

Western won the state title in 2018, while Park Vista won in 2019.