BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando bats that have been inconsistent throughout the season nearly cost the Leopards in their Class 4A region quarterfinal against Pasco on Tuesday night.
Hernando needed extra innings to emerge with a 4-3 over the Pirates despite only four hits. The team was saved by the herculean efforts of starting pitcher J.T. Simpson.
Although he received a no decision, Simpson tossed his best game of the season, striking out 14 with no walks over seven innings. He gave up two runs but neither was earned. The senior also doubled in a run as the Leopards (23-5) tied the contest in the bottom of the sixth to stay alive.
“J.T. Simpson has got the heart of a champion,” Hernando coach Tim Sims said. “He was definitely the difference maker.”
Known for their aggressive hitters, the Leopards were uncomfortable at the plate as Pasco (14-13) threw off-speed pitches all night.
However, with the off-speed pitching also came wildness and high pitch counts. Eventually, the combination caught up with the Pirates.
Cole Stancil, who started for Pasco, threw six innings. He surrendered only two earned runs and struck out 10 while giving up three hits, but his walk total of nine led to the Leopards tying the game.
“The pitch count caught up to us,” Pasco coach Ricky Giles said. “We knew they had a good ball club and we hung in there for a while, but we weren’t able to finish them off.”
In the bottom of the ninth, Simpson fittingly walked with the bases loaded to push in Christian Arroyo as the winning run and advance Hernando.
“I would have done anything to help the team,” Simpson said. “If I had to take one in the back, I would have done that.”