TAMPA — The 7A-9 district playoffs started with Freedom’s 11-inning 1-0 play-in victory Monday over Chamberlain. On Tuesday afternoon Gaither dropped a 3-0 decision to Zach Drury and Wiregrass Ranch.
In the evening, Steinbrenner punished Freedom 21-4 in five innings. The Warriors and Bulls, both making their first regionals appearance, will square off Thursday for the district title.
The Bulls and Drury jumped on some miscues and built up a 3-0 lead by five innings. Drury picked off two baserunners and the Cowboys committed two errors to let runners on who eventually scored.
A rock-solid performance from Gaither’s Hunter Henderson, who turned in his eighth complete game of the season in as many starts, was squandered. He gave up one earned run on seven hits with two strikeouts and two walks. The loss sealed the first losing season for Gaither (11-12) since its inaugural year in 1984.
Bolstered by Drury’s six-hit outing, the Bulls made their first regional appearance in seven years.
“I was hyped; I’d never pitched in this situation before. It’s been up to the seniors,” said Drury, who finished with six strikeouts and four walks in 5 1/3 innings. “It feels good. I know Coach is happy.”
Drury’s younger brother, Austin, came on in relief and got the save for Wiregrass.
In the late game, Freedom scored four runs and held a 4-2 lead in the second inning. But Warriors coach John Crumbley was unfazed.
“This is a different team this year,” Crumbley said. “(Starter) Gideon (Dunn) just wasn’t getting the pitches where he needed them. Once we stopped the bleeding, regained our focus, we were able to stay with the plan.”
The plan was to wear down the Patriots as the Warriors scored 10 runs in the second inning then nine in the third to overwhelm four Freedom pitchers. Steinbrenner turned to its reserves after three innings but the damage had been done: 21 runs, 18 earned, on 14 hits. The Patriots committed five fielding errors.
Leadoff hitter Alex Hanson was 4-for-4 with a walk and five RBIs. No. 9 hitter Brennan Garcia was 1-for-2 with a walk and four RBIs.
6A-6: Springstead shows growth during difficult season
BROOKSVILLE — In the past calendar year, Springstead has dealt with turmoil that resulted in the team playing under three coaches.
The Eagles emerged from these trials and tribulations a tougher, more seasoned team. Everything came to a head with a 14-2 mercy-rule victory over Central in five innings Tuesday night, advancing Springstead to the championship game of the Class 6A, District 6 tournament.
After a one-season absence, Springstead (15-8) will return to the state playoffs under first-year coach Jim Diven.
“It has been a difficult season because so many of these guys really liked (former coach Frank Vitale),” Diven said. “We’ve made so much progress, and now they’re starting to believe.”
Central (10-15) had swept its county rival during the regular season, but the Eagles came into the game to prove they were the better team. Springstead starter Ryan Nicoll, who lost the first decision to the Bears, pitched one of his better games of the season, allowing only two runs over four innings, striking out four and walking two.
“Most of our losses this season were because of a lack of intensity,” Nicoll said. “We needed to come out and give it all we got, and we did that today.”
Springstead, which has had an issue with errors much of the year, played flawless defense. Will Perdomo cemented the win with a grand slam in the fourth to put the Eagles up 14-2. The senior third baseman went 2-for-3 with a walk, a strikeout and six RBIs.
“The 3-1 pitch was over the plate, and I just tried to hit it hard,” Perdomo said. “I’ve hit the wall a few times this season, so I had no clue it went over until (the first-base coach) told me.”
2A-8: Late rally not enough for Wildcats
The best season in Academy at the Lakes history ended in Tuesday’s 4-3 loss to Bayshore Christian in the Class 2A, District 8 semifinals.
“They really did a good job for basically a middle school team playing high school ball,” Wildcats coach Matt Killeen said.
AATL (9-9) fell behind early after being called for a balk with a runner at third. The Wildcats came back to tie it but gave up another run on an error in the outfield.
AATL got the potential tying run into scoring position with two out but stranded him at second when the final batter went down swinging.
The Wildcats topped last year’s six wins despite an extremely young roster with six key eighth-graders and a handful of freshman contributors.
Senior Owen Sarwatka, an Oklahoma Wesleyan commit, pitched well and batted in a run. Cameron Austin also had an RBI, and eighth-grader Seth Oliver made a highlight-reel double play, diving for a catch and doubling up a runner to keep the game close. Another eighth-grader, the 6-foot-3 Darin Kilfoyl, had a hit and scored a run in the defeat.
Correspondent Derek J. LaRiviere and staff writer Matt Baker contributed to this report.