TAMPA – Zach Drury’s confidence was unshakeable Friday night.
Confidence in himself, in his hitters and the players behind him, and once spotted a one-run lead, the senior’s confidence translated into dominance as he finished off a no-hitter, striking out 10 in the Bulls 1-0, Class 7A-District 8 final win against Sickles.
“I knew we just needed one run,” Drury said. “From there, I felt like I could keep them from scoring any, and (my team) did it behind me.”
Drury didn’t start either of the two regular-season games as the teams split those meetings, and he said he was excited about taking the mound for the first time against the Gryphons.
“I haven’t faced them all year, so they didn’t know what I had coming and I was just on tonight,” he said. “I was getting ahead of batters, had a low pitch count, and today we all played together as a team.”
The double-digit strikeout performance from Drury, whose younger brother Austin earned a complete-game win over Steinbrenner in the semifinals, improved the North Florida signee to 6-1 on the season.
“I took this job to see kids succeed,” first-year Bulls coach Marshall McDougall said. “The past two nights, our team has played fantastic, the Drury brothers have pitched fantastic, and (Zach) pounded the zone tonight.”
“That’s what wins ball games.”
The elder Drury’s effort against the Gryphons was aided by his defense, especially the sharp play of senior shortstop Jackson Cornielus who made hit-saving plays, tracking liners in the third and sixth inning.
Cornielus, who has served as a defensive specialist, playing five different positions for Wiregrass Ranch (17-6) this season, tallied four putouts and three assists in the win.
“That wasn’t me, that was Zach pitching great,” Cornielus said to deflect his role in the win. “He pitched a great game, and we just did what we had to do to keep that lead.”
Richie Piazza singled in the third inning before the Bulls were given some extra life when a routine pop fly was mishandled in the Gryphons outfield.
Piazza moved to second base on the play, and a two-out Alex Goebel single up the middle gave Wiregrass Ranch the deciding run.
The unearned run spoiled a solid start from Sickles (17-7) senior Shane Haight, who scattered five hits and struck out five but took the loss.
Durant pulls off 1-0 win against Brandon
PLANT CITY — Bryce Gainer and Luke Heyer combined on a three-hitter for Durant in a 1-0 victory against Brandon in the Class 7A-District 7 title game.
The defending champion Cougars (18-6) were 0-for-8 with runners in scoring position, but Paxton Sims drew a bases-loaded walk in the sixth inning to force in the only run off Drayden Williams, who allowed only three hits while going the distance for the Eagles (16-9).
Brandon mounted a serious threat in the seventh. Troy Linderman led off with a single, and pinch runner Joe Schandera advanced to third on a balk and a wild pitch. Gainer retired Williams on an infield grounder before Heyer relocated from third base to the mound.
After a walk and a strikeout, the Eagles were down to their final out. It came when Schandera got caught in a rundown after Branden Wilborn took a 1-2 pitch low for a ball.
Following the celebration, Cougars coach Butch Valdes explained his strategy for the pitching change.
“Jumping in with a new guy that’s thrown the ball a little bit harder, a harder cut, you don’t get time to make that adjustment,” he said.
Mitchell stops top-seed Osceola
SEMINOLE — Mitchell coach Scot Wilcox believed.
The seventh-year Mustangs coach believed — knew, even — that his No. 3-seeded team could take their second straight district title and only third in program history.
“Because when at districts, anything can happen,” Wilcox said. “I told the team there are really good teams not playing anymore this season. Let’s not be one of them.”
Mitchell (17-10) lives to play on after battling out a 2-1 win over top-seeded host Seminole Osceola (20-7).
“We’ve had a lot of ups and downs this season,” said Wilcox, who got an ice-water bath in celebration. “That helps with adversity. I’d rather come in with 10 losses, that way we know how to handle adversity.”
From seeing top high-school prospect and FSU commit Cobi Johnson not pitch for nearly two months and never getting into a winning groove, the Mustangs relied on starter Kyle Blankeney and relievers Tyler Vanderveer and Ryan Slaughter to shut down a Warriors offense that stranded six runners.
“Defense,” said Slaughter, the side-arming sophomore who picked up his sixth save after pitching 2 1/3 innings and striking out two. “Corner infielders, middle infielders, the outfielders are all great and couldn’t do it without them.”
Blankeney (7-1) lasted 3 1/3 innings and gave up three hits and an unearned run on 50 pitches before Mitchell turned to Vanderveer.
Mitchell grabbed its two runs in the second by playing small ball. Erik Howard would single, then Josh Lamb and Ryan Fontaine would load the bases on sac bunts. Another sac bunt by Kamren Powers would score Howard, then Alex Mendez’s sac fly scored Lamb.
Osceola, which defeated Mitchell 3-0 on April 2, got its lone run in the third and now travels to Jefferson in the region quarterfinals. Mitchell hosts King, the team that defeated the Mustangs in the region final last season.
“I think every Mitchell player and fan is looking forward to that,” Wilcox said.
Hernando rolls past Pasco, 16-6
ZEPHYRHILLS – Scoring six-run innings in both the second and sixth, top-seeded Hernando won its fourth district title in five years by mercy-ruling Pasco, 16-6, in six innings, at the 5A- District 7 finals.
Justin Young tripled, homered and drove in six runs to lead the Leopards (23-4).
Trailing 8-3 in the bottom of the fifth, Corey Mills singled in a run and scored four batters later on an error. Pasco (16-10) loaded the bases with one out in the frame, but stranded all three runners.
The Pirates left 10 runners on base in the contest and had the bases loaded again with no outs in the sixth, but could only plate one run before Hernando got out of the jam.
The Leopards closed out the contest in the bottom of the frame, with Young blasting a three-run shot to give Hernando its final margin of victory.
Ten different players crossed home plate for Hernando, a program that has reached the region finals in each of the last four years.
Phillip Wilson doubled, homered and drove in two runs for the Pirates, who will travel to Land O’ Lakes to take on the Gators in the region quarterfinals Wednesday.