Prep baseball: Wiregrass advances to first final
It took seven seasons, but the Wiregrass Ranch High baseball team finally grabbed its first postseason berth.
“Yes, yes, yes, yes ... finally,” Bulls coach Jeff Swymer said with a laugh. “Feels so good to finally get it.”
Wiregrass (17-7) took the Class 7A-District 9 semifinal 3-0 Tuesday from host Gaither (11-12) thanks to a solid pitching performance by junior Zach Drury, who went 5 1/3 innings, striking out seven, walking four and giving up just two hits.
His younger brother, left-handed sophomore Austin, would pitch 1 2/3 innings of relief with a strikeout and two pickoffs for the save.
“To be honest, it's still sinking in that we move on no matter what,” Swymer said. “Yeah, we'd like it to be Steinbrenner (we see in the final) since they beat us pretty bad in the first game (we met) and the second was a little more competitive. Nothing would be better than getting back at them for our first district title.”
The Bulls will need more of what they got Tuesday, including RBI singles by Michael Campoamor and Shane Bucenell that scored Marcus Guzman and Zach Drury, respectively, for a first-inning lead. Austin Drury would add the third run on a sacrifice fly to score Alex Goebel.
In the other semifinal, Steinbrenner avenged last year's district tournament loss to Freedom with a 21-4 victory against the Patriots.
The win marks Steinbrenner's first trip to the state region tournament and puts the Warriors in position to capture the district crown against a Wiregrass Ranch team it topped twice this season (12-1 and 4-1).
Freedom actually held a 4-2 lead in the second before the Warriors sent 14 to the plate in the inning and pounded out ten runs. Warriors junior Alex Hanson had five RBI in the win.
- Mike Camunas, Jarrett Guthrie
8A-7: Wharton, Durant set for title rematch
VALRICO - Wharton lacked the swagger of a reigning champion after dropping all 10 of its Class 8A-District 7 regular-season games. Two tournament victories in a span of 24 hours changed that for the Wildcats, who suddenly have a chance to defend their district crown Thursday night.
Wharton, the sixth seed, advanced with a 4-2 victory against second-seeded Alonso to set up a rematch of last year's final with Durant, a 6-0 winner against Plant.
Wharton coach Scott Hoffman said he was surprised but not shocked by his team's resurgence. “We had a fighting chance,” he said. “We weren't blown out by anybody this year.”
Reed Gray drove in a pair of runs for Wharton with a bases-loaded single to close the scoring in the sixth inning. Mike Gonzalez, who hit a run-scoring triple and scored on a throwing error in the fourth, came in from left field to seal the win with two perfect innings in relief.
Less surprising was the victory by Durant, which shut out Plant three times this season. The usual hero was starting pitcher Tyler Danish, who hit a towering two-run homer in the sixth inning and has yet to allow an earned run this season.
- Bob Bellone
7A-8: Long lifts Plant City; Brandon edges Riverview
RIVERVIEW - Plant City pulled off the upset, while top-seeded Brandon held serve and the two teams will meet Thursday for the district title.
In the first game, Plant City beat No. 2 seed Hillsborough 1-0 thanks to a complete-game shutout from Kevin Long. The senior gave up only two hits while issuing no walks. Long also struck out nine. The lone run was scored in the second inning when Sawyer Dawson hit an RBI single following a triple by Chris Wells.
In the nightcap, Brandon held on to beat Riverview 3-2. Eric Hinostroza pitched a complete game while giving up five hits and striking out eight. Hinostroza was also 3-for-3 at the plate with an RBI. Riverview's best chance came in the sixth when it had the bases loaded with no outs and trailing 3-1. However, Hinostroza got out of the jam with only one run crossing the plate.
- Ben Henderson
6A-11: Leto will face King for crown
TAMPA - It's no secret Leto's season has more times than not, come down to the right arm of ace Jose Pupo. The senior got some help from his teammates in the eighth inning to defeat Strawberry Crest and advance to the district final against King.
Pupo's arm fell to fatigue and in a tough bases loaded, three ball count with a one-run lead the Falcons were forced to make a change giving the ball to senior Al Maceo. A ball four count evened the game and forced extra innings.
But the Falcons came through for Pupo. After the first two batters reached in the eighth inning, an errant throw on a sacrifice bunt allowed the winning run to score.
“It means a lot for us after 12 years to get back to the (region) playoffs,” Pupo said. “I couldn't finish, but my team came up and did it for me. This is not about Pupo, it is about playing Leto baseball.”
Frank Collado paced the Falcons offense going 3 for 3 with a double and two RBIs.
Waiting for the Falcons in Thursday's district final will be defending champ King, which earlier in the day topped Jefferson 9-2. The Lions, who improved to 21-3 on the season, got another solid start from senior and Florida commit Brett Morales (9-1) who tossed six shutout innings.
Morales said after the game he wasn't feeling overly comfortable on the mound at the start of the game, but his teammates helped him out getting him a six-run cushion in the first inning.
- Jarrett Guthrie
5A-11: Jesuit avoids upset, will meet Robinson
RIVERVIEW - Nationally-ranked Jesuit's potential state title season nearly ended prematurely and disastrously in the district semifinals.
But thanks to clutch hitting and base running down the stretch, the Tigers avoided an upset to fourth-seed Lennard with a 3-1 victory.
Jesuit (23-2) will face Robinson, a 3-2 winner against Blake in the other semifinal, in the district championship Thursday.
“Historically speaking, this is one of the toughest wins we've had to get into the playoffs,” Jesuit coach Richie Warren said.
Despite defeating Lennard by a combined score of 38-4 during the regular season, the Longhorns (5-17), on the back of pitcher sophomore pitcher Devon Key, contained Jesuit throughout and Alex Sanjurjo hit a RBI single to score Melvin Diaz in the top of the third inning to tie the game 1-1. In the bottom of the fourth, Austin McCullers gave the Tigers some breathing room when he narrowly scored from first on a double to left-center field from Leland Saile.
“In that situation and we're not hitting well, we had to force the issue,” Warren said.
Ricky Caldevilla hit a RBI single in the bottom of the sixth to score Vincent Miniet for the final score.
Sophomore pitcher Ronnie Ramirez entered in the fourth and picked up his first win of the season.
Trailing 3-1, Blake had an opportunity to take the lead in the third inning after loading the bases with no outs, but the Yellow Jackets (9-15) could only muster one run.
“Those were some game changing moments,” McCray said. “That ended up being huge because it turned into a one-run game.”
Robinson scored three runs in the first inning, sparked by a two-run single from Mario Giovannetti.
- Nick Williams
4A-9: Berkeley stops Booker
TAMPA - Berkeley pitcher Anderson Baldy allowed two hits in the first and was perfect the rest of the way, as the Bucs defeated Sarasota Booker 6-1 in the semifinals. Berkeley will meet Tampa Catholic, which had a bye, in the final..
Baldy had nine strikeouts and scored the game-winning run in the second off an RBI from Gray Oakley that put Berkeley up 2-1. They scored twice more in the inning, capitalizing on a Booker error that allowed Oakley and Dante Bosnic to reach home.
Berkeley (12-14) extended their lead in the fourth when Chris Erdmier hit a two-run chopper over Booker pitcher Hunter Johnson, plating Oakley and Bosnic again. Bosnic finished with three runs.
- Lars Steier
2A-8: Bayshore, Cambridge move on
TAMPA - Coach Joseph Abene used a rare move to get the win.
Bayshore Christian (6-12) pulled out a 4-3 victory against Academy at the Lakes to advance to the district championship Thursday, but it required two appearances by pitcher Dillon Richards.
Richards was the starter and threw 77 pitches over four innings, striking out 10 and allowing just one earned run. Abene would then replace him, but bring back Richards to close out the game.
“Good coaching doesn't do that — desperate coaching does,” Abene said. “But the payoff was worth it, even though it's not good for a pitcher's arm.”
Bayshore took a 3-0 lead in the fourth on a two-run triple by Evan Courtney who later scored on a balk. The Wildcats (5-8) would add two in the fourth on an RBI single by Owen Sarwatka, who would later score in the sixth to trim a 4-2 lead to one. Eddie Hernandez's fielder's choice RBI with the bases loaded turned out to be the difference.
“And I can't say enough about Jordan Hunenansky, coming in and getting us out of (a bases-loaded) jam (in the fifth inning),” Abene said. “That was just as key as Dillion's night.”
In the first semifinal, top-seeded Cambridge Christian (12-9) crushed Tampa Bay Christian 12-1, powered by five efficient innings by pitcher Tyler House and a three-run homer by Zach Hessinger.
House struck out six and allowed the lone Rams (1-13) run on a RBI double by Mike Lupco. The Lancers also got a two-run homer by Brandon Furr and a solo shot by Zach Mallan.
- Mike Camunas