LAND O’LAKES — During its perfect start to the season, Land O’Lakes has won in blowouts and close games. It has triumphed with offense and defense and pitching.
And Friday night at rival Sunlake, the Gators won ugly — with a rally fueled by two bunt singles and a balk and a survival from its worst defensive frame of the spring.
Land O’Lakes broke through with a five-run fourth inning and withstood three errors in the seventh to knock off the Seahawks 9-6. The Class 6A, District 10 victory kept the Gators (10-0) perfect in the best start longtime coach Calvin Baisley can remember.
“It wasn’t pretty,” Baisley said, “but for 10 games we’ve played pretty darn good. I’ll take it.”
Especially after the start his Gators got off to against a 4-6 Sunlake team that’s better than its record suggests.
Land O’Lakes ace Zachary Whitaker spotted the Seahawks two runs in the first — one from the first of two RBI singles by Ryan Talburt, and another on a double steal. The Gators answered with three in the third when Dylan Harris, Alex Reynolds and Jake Rawls knocked in runs.
Land O’Lakes’ big breakthrough came in the fourth inning.
After Austin Conner started with a walk, Andrew Perez and Connor Stephens loaded the bases with back-to-back bunt singles. Harris, a Saint Leo signee, knocked a two-run double to rightfield and eventually scored on a balk. Josh Nissen and Liam Heaney added RBI singles in the five-run inning.
That was enough insurance for Whitaker, who entered the game with a 1.07 ERA and settled down after a slow start. After giving up three runs through three innings, he finished with three scoreless frames.
“He’s pitched outstanding for us,” Baisley said. “It wasn’t his best game, but he battled and kept us in there. I think he got better as the game wore on.”
Sunlake made things interesting in the seventh by converting three Gators errors into three runs before Nissen closed out the victory.