BROOKSVILLE — A postseason’s worth of pent-up offensive frustration came pouring out of Hernando’s bats against an overmatched North Marion squad Friday night.
And, on a larger scale, the Leopards erased the memories of unfulfilled expectations at the region final level with a familiar score line.
Hernando battered North Marion starting pitcher Dalton Southerland for seven runs on eight hits over 22/3 innings. The Leopards sent left-hander Brett Maggard to the mound, and the Springstead transfer delivered with one of his most efficient prep performances to shut down a potent North Marion offense.
The result? An easier-than-expected 11-1 victory for Hernando in a game that was stopped after five innings by the mercy rule.
“This is sweet,” Hernando coach Tim Sims said with an ear-to-ear grin.
In its past two region final appearances in 2004 and ’10, Hernando (26-5) lost each by an 11-1 count. The score on Friday looked familiar but the result was oh-so-different for the Leopards, who will face Jesuit in Port St. Lucie on May 23 for the right to play in the Class 4A state championship.
“It’s the perfect game,” Maggard said. “It’s a perfect regional championship. This is what I would dream of.”
The Leopards wasted little time knocking around Southerland. Louis Colaiacomo singled, Ian Townsend walked and Maggard followed with a base hit to rightfield that the Colts’ Ryan VanWagner misplayed, allowing the ball to roll to the wall and two runs to cross home plate. Christian Arroyo followed with an RBI single, and J.T. Simpson doubled home another run to give Hernando a 4-0 lead after one inning.
“That’s always nice to be able to pitch with a lead,” said Maggard, who struck out seven and allowed only five hits. “… We were just hitting really good tonight. We haven’t been hitting good all regionals, and we just came out and exploded.”
North Marion (22-9) answered briefly in the second inning when Brandon Phillips doubled to score Southerland, but Hernando extended the lead in the bottom half of the inning. Tyler Bammert drew a leadoff walk and scored on a throwing error from North Marion catcher Connor Crile trying to gun him down at third base. Arroyo smacked his second RBI single to make it 6-1, and Matt Brady’s sacrifice fly put the Leopards ahead 7-1.
Maggard put the game out of reach in the third inning. With two outs, Colaiacomo singled and Townsend walked, which brought an end to Southerland’s evening. North Marion brought on Garrison Vandeventer, but Maggard crushed his second pitch over the wall in centerfield for a 10-1 advantage.
From there it was just a matter of time until the Hernando victory party started.
After a frustrating region final performance a year ago, Hernando, with its team virtually intact, was expected to make a return trip to the elite eight.
This time, the Leopards didn’t disappoint.
“To have an opportunity to go to the final four with the expectations that were placed upon these young men at the beginning of the year, it’s not a relief because we came out and finished,” Sims said.