Marianna hits Hardee early and often, set for 5A final

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VERO BEACH, Fla. (WJHG/WECP) - Marianna softball (27-1) has established a winning formula: score early, score often, and more often than not, go home early.

15 of their wins this season have come by ten runs or more, and although Thursday's 5A semifinal against Hardee (18-14) was not one of them, the Lady Bulldogs followed that formula to another resounding victory and are just one win away from attaining the program's first state championship.

Senior pitcher Chloe Temples was locked in, striking out 11 in a complete game. The bats came alive to help her in the top of the third.

Lauren Brock opened scoring with an RBI double to right. Gabby Bess followed, plating two and reaching third on a grounder to left-center to put the MHS up 3-0.

Temples helped her own cause in the fourth, painting the foul line in left with a double to increase the gap to four runs. With the Stetson signee in top form in the circle, that was more than enough, but Lexie Spooner added two more for good measure in the seventh for a 6-1 final.

Even for a team this good—and a program that has won at least 20 games each of the last four seasons—making it this far still feels surreal.

"Oh my gosh. Words can't explain! Words cannot explain," second baseman Gabby Bess said. "Honestly, [reaching the final] wasn't even a goal, I just wanted to see how far we could get and it shows we're getting pretty far."

"Starting out my freshman year, I kind of thought it was ridiculous to have a goal to go to state," Temples added. "But I told myself, 'no, no, I'm going to make it to state. I'm gonna win state no matter what happens.' To be here my senior year is pretty awesome."

Fittingly for a state final, they'll run into a buzzsaw Friday morning. Coral Springs Charter (28-1), 6-1 winner over Hernando in the second semifinal, is MaxPreps' No.4 team in the state (transcending classification) and state champion three of the last four seasons.

MHS head coach Scott Wiggins quipped the matchup is "David vs. Goliath," but the players are confident that Thursday's semifinal and the season at large showcased the keys for success tomorrow too.

"As soon as somebody gets a hit, hitting is contagious," Bess added. "As soon as I get a hit, I'll pass it to the next batter. It just keeps on going."

"It ensures that we have the momentum on our side," Temples agreed. "I feel like we have the best offensive group of girls that we've had in the past four years, which makes me really excited and hopeful."

The Lady Dawgs plan to throw Temples again, her final start in a career tallying more than 800 strikeouts.

First pitch is scheduled for 10:05 ET.

Stay tuned to social media and newscasts for updates, highlights, and postgame reaction throughout the day.

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