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Column: Wildcats keep their cool for tourney championship

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Sat. March 19, 2011 | John C. Cotey | Email

Column: Wildcats keep their cool for tourney championship

WESLEY CHAPEL — The Pasco County Varsity Baseball Tournament couldn’t have asked for a better final — the two co-hosts, playing a see-saw battle, settling the championship with a wild finish in the seventh inning.

If I had to bet, I’d say this thing is going to catch on.

Long overdue, the county’s first try at a real spring baseball tournament finished successfully Friday night as Wesley Chapel beat Wiregrass Ranch 9-8 in a back-and-forth battle of attrition.

After winning their semifinal on a walk-off home run by Zach White, the Wildcats rallied in the final with four runs in the sixth and a walk-off single in the seventh.

“It was ugly,” said shortstop Geoff DeGroot, who had the winning hit. “For us to be able to come back and win when it was that ugly says a lot.”

It says these Wildcats, still undefeated at 12-0, are never out of game, even when it looks like they are.

“That’s sort of our trait,” said coach Chuck Yingling. “We don’t give up. We don’t quit.”

There were nine errors — 10 if you count the Wildcats’ unsuccessful attempt to dump a cooler of water over Yingling’s head.

“Routine plays,” the coach said of the errors, though he could have been talking about the misfired dunking as well.

Yingling was talking to reporters, who were alerted the bucket was coming, and at the last second, and if I don’t say so myself the guys with notebooks timed it perfectly and jumped (okay, so it was more like waddled) out of the way.

But there was a hitch in the Wildcat player’s delivery to Yingling’s blind side, and the coach was able to avoid the worst of it.

It was a fitting end to a fitting final.

The teams swapped the lead a few times, made a few nice plays, delivered a couple of critical hits, but played the kind of baseball you’d expect at the end of a long tournament during spring break week, with both their aces already spent.

Well, almost spent.

Wiregrass Ranch brought in ace John Michael Gant, who threw 101 pitches to get his team to the final on Tuesday. He took the mound in the fifth inning with his team nursing a 5-4 lead and swiftly retired three hitters.

After the Bulls gave their ace some breathing room with three runs in the top of the sixth — two on a single Chris Kluedner — to make it 8-4, Gant was trotted back out for another inning.

Why?

After throwing 101 pitches Tuesday, and preserving a one-run lead with a quick inning, and then watching the Bulls lead grow to 8-4, Gant should have been done for the night.

Instead, he retired the first two hitters in the bottom of the inning, and then gave up three straight hits to the top three hitters in the Wildcats’ lineup, including DeGroot, who had an RBI single.

“That was right after their big inning, and we were just saying if not now, then never,” he said. “We wanted to face him. We like a challenge.”

It wasn’t the hits that did Gant and the Bulls in, it was pair of bad throws by the defense.

A couple of errors led to a couple of runs, the game was tied at 8-8, and Gant dragged his prized right arm off the field having thrown another 45 pitches or so.

Why indeed.

The next inning, Wesley Chapel won the game on DeGroot’s single to rightfield.

The Bulls could have walked him and taken their chances with Brandon Mumaw, who hadn’t hit the ball well all night, but with runners at second and third, they decided to try to get the guy hitting .455 out instead.

Sitting on a curveball, he lined it perfectly to rightfield.

“Going up there I thought they might walk me,” DeGroot said. “I definitely wasn’t looking for a walk. I wanted to hit.”

And Yingling wanted a hit with this first Pasco County baseball tournament.

He got one.

If I had to bet, I’d say this thing is going to catch on.

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