Days after learning of the loss of top pitcher Karsyn Rutherford to a muscle tear, the Venice softball team turned around to play one of its most important games of the year — against the Fort Myers Green Wave on Thursday night.

Despite finding themselves in a 4-0 hole after the top of the third, the Indians battled back to make it a game, but couldn’t complete the comeback in a 5-3 loss at Venice High School.

After losing six times to Fort Myers in the past two seasons, including the last two district championships, Venice coach Steve Constantino was pleased with how his team hung with Fort Myers on Thursday.

“This is the game where we found out where we’re really at,” Constantino said. “Today we found out where we go from here.

“We’ve got a lot of season left. There’s what, 19 games to go? So, I’m not upset about this game at all. I never like to lose, but sometimes a loss looks like a win. Tonight, this was a win for us. What a huge step in the right direction.”

With Rutherford sporting a sling on her left arm — and ruled out for the season due to a tear in what Constantino described as her shoulder/back area — the Indians turned to pitchers Becka Mellor and Micaela Hartman against their district rivals.

Though she gave up runs in each of the first three innings, Mellor kept Venice in the game and could have likely escaped with hardly any damage if not for some untimely plays.

“I couldn’t ask more of (pitchers) Becka Mellor or Micaela Hartman,” Constantino said. “That score doesn’t reflect how well they played. This should have been a one-run game. We had some plays not go our way in my eyes, but these girls don’t have a lot that they have to clean up.”

But while Mellor did her best to keep the game close, the Indians had the challenge of putting up runs against one of the best pitchers in the area — USF commit and 2018 News-Press Softball Player of the Year finalist Vivian Ponn.

Though Venice catcher Kay Holland broke through with an RBI single in the third inning, the Indians wouldn’t threaten the lead until the later stages of the game.

With Ponn still pitching, Venice scored once again on a sacrifice fly by Bri Weimer — and then nearly rallied for a comeback in the final inning.

Antonia “Peanut” Rosa led the seventh off with a bunt single, Kayleigh Roper reached on a single, and Holland came up to bat as the tying run with one out.

The senior drove in another run with a sacrifice fly, but the out proved costly as the next batter — Hartman — struck out to end the game.

“That’s a great team we played, and that’s not what they expected,” Constantino said.

“They expected their pitcher to be out of this game in about the third inning with the win, I can guarantee it. She’s been on a 40-pitch count coming into tonight, and they had to keep her in because they knew that they were in trouble. I can’t wait for what’s ahead for these kids.”

The Indians will get their next crack at beating the Green Wave when the Indians travel down to Fort Myers on April 16.

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