TRINITY — Mitchell’s first celebration at home plate came in the fourth inning, after Mustangs slugger Marcus Begg bashed a massive home run to extend his team’s lead in Thursday’s Class 6A, District 10 final.
The second came an hour later, after pitcher Christopher McCormick launched his glove in the air following the final out to set off a series of mosh pits and ice showers commemorating a 6-3 win over No. 1 seed Land O’Lakes.
“It was ridiculous,” McCormick said.
The victory gave the second-seeded Mustangs (23-5) their second district championship in three seasons and secured a home game in Wednesday’s Class 6A region quarterfinals. It also avenged two losses to the Gators (21-6) this season by a combined 11 runs.
“They beat our butts pretty good twice this year,” Mitchell coach Scot Wilcox said. “Just our resilience is what I’m most proud of with these boys.”
Especially with Begg and McCormick.
The Mustangs jumped to a 4-0 lead on RBI singles by Begg, PJ DeJesus, FSU commit Cobi Johnson and Blake Hart before Land O’Lakes charged in the third. Alex Reynolds smashed a home run to centerfield, and Connor Stephens’ single trimmed the deficit to 4-3.
That’s when Begg bounced back with one of his biggest hits of the season. The standout senior blasted a curveball into the football practice field past the leftfield fence for a two-run blast in the top of the fourth.
“He’s been doing that all year long,” Wilcox said.
But this one was the biggest.
Begg’s seventh home run of the year and fourth this month gave his Mustangs a 6-3 lead. It also let McCormick relax after loading the bases three times and nearly being pulled because of a soaring pitch count.
“That kinda got me settled down,” said McCormick, who finished with seven strikeouts. “After that, I was just rolling.”
Through the first three innings, McCormick allowed seven hits, 10 baserunners and walked in a run. But after Begg’s homer, the senior right-hander allowed only two hits and one walk in four scoreless innings.
Land O’Lakes — which will be on the road in its playoff opener — never threatened in the final four frames of its second loss to a Pasco County team this year.
McCormick said little changed from the teams’ first two matchups, other than a boost in Mustang intensity with a trophy at stake and a series of uproars at home plate.
“It was awesome,” Begg said. “I’m speechless right now.”
6A-6: Shining defense sparks Eagles
BROOKSVILLE — Springstead has been led by a collection of seniors all season but it was a junior playing a new position that catapulted the Eagles to a second district title in three years.
Will Pagan’s huge diving catch in center preserved a lead before the Eagles went on to defeat Citrus 6-1.
“We’ve dealt with a lot of adversity all season,” Springstead coach Jim Diven said, “but we’re jelling at the right time and the kids all believe.”
The junior, who spent most of his high school career at shortstop, has found a home in centerfield. He made two spectacular catches, including one to end the bottom of the sixth. With the bases loaded and two out, a line drive to deep right-center could have tied the game. Instead, Pagan, running full stride, dove at the last second to preserve a 4-1 lead.
“I didn’t think I had a shot at it at all,” Pagan said. “I was just trying to get there and make a play, and when the time came I just dove and hoped.”
Diven was impressed with his team’s effort, but Pagan’s catch was the most impressive thing he’d seen.
“He’s an amazing athlete, and he’s made amazing plays all year,” Diven said, “but that (catch) was one of the most spectacular plays I’ve ever seen.”
Springstead starter Brandon Brosher struggled through a tough first inning before settling down. He worked through bases-loaded jams in the fifth and sixth. In the first of those situations, he struck out the final two hitters to work out of a bases-loaded one-out spot.
The Hurricanes (12-13) were tied 1-1 with Springstead (16-8) after four. Citrus starter Ben Wright was hanging tough until Ryan Nicoll laced a double with the bases loaded. The bases-clearing three-run blast was enough to drive Wright from the game.
Wright was relieved by Austin Bogart, who didn’t fare much better, surrendering a two-run bases-loaded single to Will Perdomo in the top of the seventh.
7A-9: Bulls can't get bats going
TAMPA — Steinbrenner and Wiregrass Ranch qualified for their first region playoff Tuesday. On Thursday, they duked it out at Gaither to decide who would host.
“It’s real hard as the runnerup to host any games in regionals,” Warriors coach John Crumbley said. “Plus, we like our yard.”
The Warriors did not disappoint their coach, as they dropped the Bulls 4-0 in the 7A-9 final with two-run innings in the first and fifth on the back of some stellar defensive play and a rock-solid outing from Logan LaPace. He finished with three strikeouts while giving up five hits and no earned runs.
“We don’t know what he (LaPace) throws, but three times against him and we haven’t figured it out yet,” Wiregrass coach Jeff Swymer said.
The Warriors got two runs off a four-hit first then opened it up in the fifth when No. 9 hitter Brennan Garcia laced a pitch to left-center, driving in two more runs. The Bulls scattered five hits and could scarcely get a runner to third; two of their five hits stayed in the infield.
Defense kept the Bulls in the game. Michael Campoamor had six put-outs from shortstop and each team had a double play. Campoamor knocked down a ball hit right at him and threw out Jesse Haney to end the second inning with the bases loaded. Mijon Cummings had a great catch in foul territory for Steinbrenner, and Marcus Guzman made a diving catch in centerfield in the fourth inning for Wiregrass.
3A-8: Hurricanes bow out in semifinals
Bishop McLaughlin’s season ended Thursday in a 4-2 loss to Brooks DeBartolo in the Class 3A, District 8 semifinals.
The Hurricanes (12-13) mustered only four hits against Shane Jeffcoat and couldn’t score in the final three innings. Sophomore Drew Stofanik knocked in Bishop’s only two runs in a 1-for-3 night.
Senior Brenden Rivera led the Phoenix, finishing 3-for-4 with three doubles while batting in three runs.
Correspondents Derek J. LaRiviere and Andy Warrener contributed to this report.