LAND O'LAKES — Academy at the Lakes coaches noticed early on a quirk in Land O'Lakes' battery exchange.
"In the very first inning one of our coaches said (Gators pitcher) Callie Turner keeps putting her head down and the catcher keeps turning her back," Wildcats coach Diane Stephenson said. "And we kept saying if we get an opportunity we might be able to steal home."
They got the chance in the eighth inning. Brooke Blankenship led off by reaching on an error and went to third on a grounder by Alexis Kilfoyl.
That provided the perfect moment.
Blankenship watched and waited, then took off for home. She slid safely before the throw arrived, scoring what turned out to be the winning run in a 3-2 victory.
"It just came around later, and we had already talked to Brooke about it in between innings, and that's when I told if you see her put her head down and see an opening you have to go for it," Stephenson said.
Added Blankenship: "I saw the catcher take a few steps in front of home and she turned her head around and walked back and then as soon as I saw the pitcher turn around I took off."
Academy at the Lakes (19-4) got payback for a 1-0 loss to Land O'Lakes that was decided in the bottom of the seventh when Tia Williams scored the winning run.
Williams had a chance to put the Gators (18-5) ahead in the sixth inning. Waiting at third, she went home on a sacrifice fly but was tagged out to complete a double play that ended the threat.
The throw from leftfield was made by Caitlin Blankenship, Brooke's younger sister.
Tuesday's win was the Wildcats' eighth this season against a team ranked in the top 25.
"When I look at the schedule we've put together this season, it's been phenomenal," Stephenson said. "We have had to have played one of the toughest schedules in the state. We've played 9A, 8A, 7A and 6A.
"Basically, we saw what Canterbury did last season. They put together a heck a schedule and took their lumps and bruises. It's taught our kids so much. It's taught them to bend but not break. They can see our goal is within reach and that's to win the last game. Period."