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TAMPA — When Gaither coach Frank Permuy was unhappy with his team’s pregame preparation, he shut down the clubhouse, so as a result the Cowboys took extra swings in the batting cage.
And Gaither stayed in rhythm once the game started Thursday, stroking a season-high nine extra-base hits en route to a 10-6 win over Freedom for the Class 7A, District 9 title. The championship, the Cowboys’ 11th in 28 years, essentially nullifies their up-and-down regular season as they move onto the region quarterfinals.
“We’ve said it all along, we have the talent,” Permuy said. “When it gets close to districts everyone has a little more adrenaline flowing but still, this is the way it could have been all year.”
In a reversal of the 10-9, come-from-behind win over Steinbrenner in the semifinals that saved the season Tuesday, Gaither, the No. 4 seed, scored three in the top of the first on a three-run home run from Jose Gonzalez. But the suspect defense that necessitated the comeback showed up again, as the Cowboys (16-9) spotted Freedom a run in the bottom half of the inning thanks to three fielding errors.
“I told them that’s our allotment for the game,” Permuy said, noting that his squad had hoped to forget about the six errors in the previous game.
And the defense held for the rest of the night. Meanwhile, the doubles parade continued as four Cowboys sent eight balls, every one to centerfield, that resulted in two bases. Twice, seniors Chris Valdez-Torres and Jake Gowen — the Nos. 8 and 9 hitters — sent back-to-back doubles to center. Gowen finished with three RBIs and Valdez-Torres finished 3-for-3, all doubles.
Valdez-Torres entered the game hitting .246 with two extra-base hits for the entire season.
“I did what coach (Nelson) North told me and kept everything up the middle, and it worked for me tonight,” he said.
Freedom (15-9) added four runs in the sixth to get within four runs. But Alex Milne, who relieved Matt Frey after he went a season-high 5 1/3 innings with 10 strikeouts, recorded two strikeouts to end the inning.
Class 7A-8: Chris Toney threw a three-hit, complete-game shutout to give Brandon a 2-0 7A-8 district title over Riverview (17-8). The Eagles (16-8) are the only No. 1 seed from the county’s three largest classifications to win their district.
Even though Brandon’s record hovered slightly above .500 for most of the year, coach Matt Stallbaumer pointed to how his team played against teams in what he called the “super district”— 8A-7 — as the keys to the Eagles’ success. Brandon went 1-5 against Bloomingdale, Newsome, Plant, Durant and Wharton, each loss by two runs or fewer.
“We know how to play in close games,” Stallbaumer said. “We know how important pitching and playing defense is, and we’ve been able to do those things well.”
Sophomore Ryan Anderson’s home run in the fifth inning proved to be all Toney and the Eagles needed.
Class 4A-9: Berkeley Prep (15-12-1) beat Tampa Catholic 2-0 for the 4A-9 title as Trent Thompson threw a four-hit complete-game shutout. Bubba Olivera hit a solo shot for his first home run of the year as the Buccaneers took the season series.
“We tried to tell our guys that a lot of other teams wish they had gotten to this point,” Tampa Catholic coach Ty Griffin said. “A couple of big teams that everyone said were guaranteed to advance did not, so it’s definitely still an accomplishment to still be playing.”
The Crusaders will learn this week whether ace Derek Martin, out for a month with an arm injury, will be cleared for the region quarterfinals.
Class 2A-8: Cambridge continued its dominance of 2A-8 play with a 16-0, five-inning win over Bayshore Christian. Nick Eicholtz threw a two-hitter with 11 strikeouts and freshman Luke Gilcrease hit a two-run home run.
8A-7: Wharton goes 12 innings for first district crown
DURANT — It took 82 at-bats, 10 runners left on base, three double plays and 12 innings but the Class 8A, District 7 title game was decided Thursday on a missed throw to first base. Wharton’s unearned run was enough to carry the Wildcats to a 1-0 victory in a marathon of a game.
Wharton won a district crown for the first time.
“It’s really a relief, now all the other coaches at Wharton can’t give me a hard time about not having a banner up,” coach Scott Hoffman said.
Durant outhit Wharton 6-3, and pitchers Charles Fowler and Trey Oest combined for 10 strikeouts and just three walks. Wharton’s Shaun Rubin and Tuck Neuhaus got just six strikeouts and gave up six hits.
In the bottom of the 12th, Collin Woody, 0-for-4 until then, connected on a single to left. Bret Kaminski moved Woody to second on a bunt. Zack Zaversnik hit a grounder to third and the throw was in the dirt and got by the first baseman, allowing Woody to round third and head home.
“Of course the frustration was setting in, but we’re used to these guys, we play these types of games,” Hoffman said. “We’re definitely not flashy, we just get the job done.”
6A-11: Lions capture latest title with ease
TAMPA — King cruised to its eleventh district title behind a strong pitching performance from junior Brandon Caples in topping Sickles 7-0 Thursday for the 6A-11 title.
Caples improved to 5-1, pitching a complete-game shutout, striking out two and walking two while giving up four hits. His efficiency was impressive.
“He didn’t have great stuff tonight but he battled,” coach Jim Macaluso said. “He has thrown some big games for us over his career here so we knew we could go to him.
“He’s the kind of guy that if you field the ball well behind him then good things will happen.”
King (16-8) took the lead in the first inning on the first of junior Brett Morales’ two doubles with an RBI in the game. From there the Lions never looked backed, finishing the inning with a four-run lead.
After a tight 1-0 victory over Strawberry Crest in the semifinal, Caples was relieved to have runs on the board early to help him establish a calm demeanor on the mound.
“I’ve been thinking about this game all day,” Caples said. “I was nervous it would be the same thing as (Wednesday) but the bats came through for me. This game felt like the games two seasons ago when we made a state title run and I think that experience really paid off for me today.”
Times correspondents Andy Warrener and David Rice contributed to this report.