Trailing district rival North Port since the top of the first inning, the Venice softball team finally found itself in a position to win the game in its very last at-bat in the home half of the seventh.

With the bases loaded and two outs, Venice second baseman Tatum McGrath dug in to the batter’s box and wasted no time winning the game — sending the first pitch on a scorching line drive over the head of the Bobcats centerfielder as the winning run raced home for a 5-4 win at Venice High School.

“All my other at-bats, I got out, so I was like, ‘I have to do something here,’” McGrath said. “Earlier in the game we were leaving people on base and we just couldn’t do that anymore. I was completely calm in the box and I just let myself do what I do.

“It was a low pitch and I rake on low pitches, so I just went for it.”

Venice left eight runners on base through the first three innings, allowing North Port to stay comfortably ahead for much of the game.

After Bobcats pitcher Ashley Nelson hit an RBI single off Indians starter Becka Mellor in the first, Nelson also capped off a big third inning with a two-run single to left field to give her team a 4-1 lead.

Following Nelson’s second hit of the day, Venice coach Steve Constantino pulled Mellor from the game in favor of Michaela Hartman.

The freshman stepped up to the challenge — getting a double play to escape the jam without any more runs coming across. From there on out, Hartman pitched nearly perfect softball as she allowed just one hit and no walks over the rest of the game.

“We’re struggling on the mound a little bit and we’re having to go to the youngins a little more than we wanted to. Michaela Hartman has done a great job. She’s pretty settled in. She doesn’t get rattled much. It could be 10-0 or 10-10, it doesn’t matter, she’s the same person. She’s got the true mentality of a pitcher — you just go out and do your job. She’s done a great job of giving us a chance to win these games.”

With Venice not coming up with timely hits, the Indians turned to some small ball in the fifth inning after a double by Megan Hanley put runners on second and third with one out. Sophia Cordero laid down a safety squeeze bunt to score a run, and Hanley scored two batters later on a wild pitch to bring Venice within one run.

Again in the sixth, Venice threatened to take the lead.

A single and two walks loaded the bases, but Venice wouldn’t even need to swing the bat as a passed ball allowed Hartman to come racing in from third base to score and tie the game at 4-4. One pitch later, Hanley roped a line drive just within the reach of a diving Kylie Murray at shortstop to end the inning.

Once more in the final inning, Venice was presented with a golden opportunity as Mellor reached on a bunt single and the throw sent the lead runner to third — setting up McGrath with her game-winning opportunity.

“Let’s face it: Every district win is important, and after you lose one, they get more and more important,” Constantino said. “Charlotte looks to have a really good team this year. We know Fort Myers is loaded.

“These are games that you can’t lose. You have to win these games and give yourself a chance to get in the postseason and see what happens.”

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