Gillard opened the game with a solo homer, Laney pitched another complete game and Kerr levied the biggest blow with a three-run homer in a five-run fifth as the Silver Hawks defeated the Braves 6-3.
The victory set up a fifth meeting this season between Lake Howell and Winter Springs. But this one was the most important as the Bears and Silver Hawks did battle on Friday night for a spot in the Class 6A Regional Finals.
To get to yet another rematch, both teams had to mow through their respective Orlando Metro Conference oppo-nents.
Lake Howell's test was Boone, a team they'd defeated by the slimmest of margins, 3-2 in the regular season. The stage was set for another classic battle between Laney and Boone pitcher Paige Pender.
Both teams went three-up, three-down through the first and Laney shut the Braves down 1-2-3 in the second. With one out in the bottom of the second, Gillard, the Lake Howell hero from the district final, got a hold of one to left for her second home run in as many games, giving the Silver Hawks a 1-0 lead.
But the lead would be short-lived. Boone used a series of Lake Howell mistakes to tie the score on Laney in the third.
Brandy Eaton led off the inning with a pop up to center that inexplicably fell between the centerfielder and the left fielder as Eaton pulled in to second. Laney uncorked a wild pitch to Shelby Miller allowing Eaton to reach third, but Miller eventually struck out. Pender tried to bunt to mix things up, but sent it right back to Laney, who looked Ea-ton back and got the out at first.
Primed to get to out of the inning unscathed, Laney faced Marissa Edwards with two outs, but the senior pitcher let loose another wild pitch, scoring Eaton with the tying run.
Zeroes dotted the board over the next two innings as Pender rolled through the third and fourth without allowing a baserunner. Laney made it through the fourth and fifth without allowing a run, but did put two runners on each inning and had to sidestep trouble to avoid giving up the lead.
In the fourth, she stranded two after a one-out walk and a two-out single. It was even hairier in the fifth as Eaton led off with a double, but Laney struck out Miller again and after walking Pender got Edwards to line out to her second baseman Rachel Laughlin, who flipped to the shortstop Dannielle Walsh covering second to double off Ea-ton.
A MEMORABLE FIRST
Lake Howell then struck for five runs in the fifth.
Gillard led it all off with a single and Walsh moved her to second with a sacrifice. Samara Gammons followed with a slapper to third and beat out the throw as the third baseman took too long looking Gillard back to second. With two on and one out Jeanna Berman singled to center, but Gillard was held at third, loading the bases.
Courtney Diamond then gave Lake Howell the lead with a single to right, scoring Gillard and Gammons right behind her. Jayna Abercrombie struck out for the second out, but freshman Aisha Kerr put the icing on the cake with a long drive to right that just cleared the fence for a three-run homer to make it 6-1.
"My first two at bats, she jammed me inside twice and I did not like that," Kerr said. "So I made my adjustment, moved back in the box and I just ripped it down the line like I was supposed to."
It was the freshman's first career home run.
"She's a headsy ball player," Lake Howell coach Tom Kreahling said of Kerr. "She plays older than her age."
WALKING THE TIGHT ROPE
The Silver Hawks would load the bases again with three straight singles from Laney, Laughlin and Gillard, her second of the inning, but failed to add to the lead.
Laney allowed a run each in the sixth and seventh and had the tying run at the plate with two out in the seventh, but got a grounder that first baseman Rayvin Vick snared beautifully and stepped on the bag to end it.
Laney pitched a complete game, allowing three runs, two earned, on six hits, she walked four, but struck out eight.
"I had an off night and thank god I have a great team to back me up. I think it was just me being off. I wasn't really nervous. I knew that I had a team that if I just threw it over the plate, they'd make the plays for me," Laney said. "It was a big relief because my attitude wasn't great so I didn't know if it would rub off on everybody else. I'm glad that they picked it up for themselves."
Despite a rocky start, the five-run fifth inning gave Laney some breathing room for the rest of the evening and showed that Lake Howell doesn't have to depend on their pitcher to be perfect to be successful.
"I'm so proud of my team, it's just the biggest thing and the best feeling," Kerr said. "The key is probably the chem-istry. We're all sisters. We get along so well and we know how to pick each other up, we know how to make each other smile and we have each other's backs. That's the biggest thing."
Kerr finished 1-for-3 with the big blast, 3 RBI and a run scored. Gillard was a perfect 3-for-3 with a homer and two runs scored. Berman added a pair of hits for the Hawks.
"We have an offense with three or four slappers that can get on base," Kreahling said. "We have an offense 1-9 that's put together so that we have speed everywhere in the lineup and our hitters to knock them in everywhere around that. It is big for us because we preach constantly: pick somebody up."
WINTER SPRINGS 1, TIMBER CREEK 0 (13 Innings)
The Bears did their part to advance as well, winning an extra-inning thriller with 6A-4 champion Timber Creek, 1-0.
Kiersten Coffman pitched the entire game for Winter Springs and piled up five strikeouts. Katie Mandigo came up with the RBI double in the 13th and Coffman made it stand up.
Coffman dodged in and out of two bases loaded jams before the game got to extra innings. In the third, the Bears recorded a third out at the plate on a throw from rightfielder Brittany Garcia that nabbed a Timber Creek runner at the plate.
MOUNT DORA BIBLE 5, TRINITY PREP 0
In Class 2A, the Trinity Prep Saints were shut down by Mount Dora Bible's Brittany Stone, who struck out 14 Saints over a seven-inning complete game shutout.
CENTRAL FLORIDA CHRISTIAN 4, LAKE MARY PREP 2
Seminole County's only team remaining in 1A was eliminated Tuesday as well.
A late rally from Lake Mary Prep to break up a perfect game in the sixth and plate two runs fell short as Central Florida Christian Academy prevailed 4-2.
Haley Morales blasted a late homer for the Griffins.