LAND O’ LAKES — The district was prime for the taking for the Land O’ Lakes High baseball team.
But the same held true for River Ridge, Fivay, Sunlake and Dunedin. Yet, it was the Gators who, perhaps surprisingly, came away with the Class 5A-District 8 title and the right to host Pasco tonight at 7 in the region quarterfinals.
“When we struggled, it was in the district,” junior outfielder and closer Alex Reynolds said. “We beat and lost to some good teams, but we won the games we were supposed to and we definitely won the games we needed to.”
Down the stretch, the Gators (18-8) went 11-2, with losses to Mitchell and Wiregrass Ranch by identical 3-2 scores. All the elements Land O’ Lakes needed came together, but especially pitching. As soon as Tommy Guglielmello (4-0, 0.54 ERA) was healthy, he combined with Kirby Osborn (5-2, 1.81 ERA) and Andrew O’Brien (2-3, 3.20 ERA) to give the team three solid starters, while Reynolds (2-0, 0.93 ERA, 2 saves) came into his own as the closer.
“I think everyone in the district had a legit chance to win and that’s what I told them before the tournament,” long-time Gators coach Calvin Baisley said. “We lost to River Ridge twice during the season, but we beat them when it mattered and there were five other teams that could’ve won this district, too.”
In the 5A-8 semifinals, the Gators took a 5-0 lead on UCF commit Jason Heinrich, and Baisley knows grabbing five runs quickly can easily solidify a win.
“Heck, every coach wants that, but it doesn’t always work out that way,” Baisley laughed. “But with our pitching and defense we should be able to hold a lead like that.”
Land O’ Lakes will try to limit Pasco (16-10) and its high-scoring offense which has scored 184 runs this season, including 22 in the Pirates’ three district tournament games last week. The Gators were scheduled to play the Pirates twice this season but both games were rained out.
The Gators have scored 177 this season, but like most Baisley-made lineups over the three decades he’s coached, they’ve scraped together their runs. Reynolds has helped, especially by wdriving in 19 this season.
“He’s been hitting in the middle of the lineup since he was a freshman,” Baisley said. “Early on, he was batting a measly .350 and wanted to do better, but he’s gotten some big hits for us.”
Reynolds said the Gators perform well in all areas on the field.
“Our pitching is really good, but we’re pretty good at everything. We just find what we need at the right time,” said Reynolds, who is batting .333. “Some games we hit really well, other times our defense is the best and our pitching will really shine.
“I think we’re really good at adapting and always changed throughout the year.”
Correspondent Mike Camunas can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @MikeCamunas.