SEMINOLE — Sometimes in district tournaments, teams travel farther to get to the game site than it would take to get to their respective schools. In Friday’s 5A-11 championship, East Lake and Tarpon Springs were happy to drive the 34 miles for their third matchup of the season.
Riding aggressive base-running and the arm of Austin Bembnowski, the Eagles defeated the Spongers 3-2 to win their first district title in nine years.
“This was Austin’s best performance of the year,” Eagles coach Dan Genna said. “He wanted to pitch in this game since we beat Dunedin. I only wanted a couple of innings but he gave me six.”
Bembnowski gave up a leadoff double to Danny Robinson, who scored on an error to give the Spongers a 1-0 lead in the top of the first.
“Danny Robinson has been our catalyst all year,” Spongers coach Dickie Hart said.
Tully Causey started the game for the Spongers and threw four shutout innings. East Lake threatened in the second but first baseman Anthony Bariso turned an unassisted double play to end the inning.
The Eagles loaded the bases with no outs in the fourth after two errors and a hit batsman, but second baseman Hunter Bonner caught a line drive and fired to first to double off the runner. Causey induced a groundout to end the inning.
While the Spongers were playing great defense, Bembnowski was equally up to the task. The Spongers continued to put runners in scoring position but he kept them from crossing the plate.
“We got runners in scoring position a lot but we left them on base,” Hart said. “We made a couple of bad decisions and they beat us.”
East Lake finally got to Causey in the fifth inning. Sawyer Wilson walked and Johnathan Snyder came in to run for him. After a flyout, Grant Hodges doubled to center to score Snyder. Justin DiSanto followed with a single and stole second. Causey walked Morgan Cowan and the fourth ball was a wild pitch, allowing Hodges to score. Cowan rounded first and continued to second. Tommy Grill’s throw to second wasn’t in time and DiSanto scored.
“We have been aggressive on the bases all year,” Genna said. “Those were clutch hits by Hodges and DiSanto.”
Both teams move on to the region tournament. The Spongers will be traveling while East Lake will get a home game.
“These guys love traveling,” Hart said. “The bases are still the same distance.”