LAND O’LAKES — In a game beleaguered by enough walks, wild pitches and general lack of control from both pitching staffs to make Mitch “Wild Thing” Williams envious, a deadly accurate throw from centerfield preserved Hernando’s 8-5 victory over Land O’Lakes in the Class 4A, District 8 championship.
With Hernando clinging to a 5-4 lead in the bottom of the sixth inning, Land O’Lakes’ Trey McNickle smacked a base hit up the middle with the bases loaded and two outs. Trae Urban, who led off the inning with a double, scored on the play to tie, but Joel Nissen was gunned down at the plate after a strong throw from Leopards’ centerfielder Ian Townsend was right on target.
Hernando catcher Tyler Bammert perfectly blocked the plate from Nissen and applied the tag before the sophomore third baseman could sneak his hand in.
“Key play by Bammert standing in there at the plate to receive the throw, Townsend jumping on it and not being overaggressive,” Hernando coach Tim Sims said.
In the bottom of the sixth, Hernando (23-5) put the Gators away for good to earn their second district title in two years. With the bases loaded and one out, Brett Maggard laced a single to rightfield to plate two runs and give the Leopards a 7-5 advantage. Christian
Arroyo followed with a deep sacrifice fly to centerfield to add an insurance run.
Hernando right-hander J.T. Simpson took the mound to start the seventh and shut down the Gators (20-8) one-two-three to earn the save.
The rest of the pitching staff for both teams, however, struggled to keep the ball in the strike zone, combining for 17 walks.
Hernando was the first to take advantage of the errant throws. After Urban led off the game by hitting the first pitch off Hernando’s Dillon Bedwell over the leftfield fence, the Leopards came back with five runs in the second inning to take control.
A wild pitch brought home Hernando’s first run. Louis Colaiacomo hit a line drive single to score two more runs, and Townsend crushed a pitch over the centerfield fence for his ninth home run of the season.
“I was just looking first pitch fast ball, and he gave it to me so I took it,” Townsend said.
The Gators got three runs back in the fourth after Dylan Harris singled home a run, McNickle drew a bases-loaded walk and David Perez was hit by a pitch with the bases full.
Land O’Lakes, though, could never grab the lead.
“That was key for us to get in front to make them chase, because it played into our pitching rotation a little better,” Sims said.