WESLEY CHAPEL — Alex Goebel had two of Wiregrass Ranch’s five hits and the only RBI of the game last week as the Bulls topped Sickles for their first baseball district championship.
Before Wednesday’s Class 7A region quarterfinal against Brandon, first-year coach Marshall McDougall rewarded his senior catcher by bumping him up in the lineup.
“Alex has been swinging the bat well, and that’s why he jumped up from three to two,” McDougall said, “just to get him some extra at-bats.”
And with the season on the line, Goebel was in the right place at the right time.
The Bulls trailed Brandon by a run heading into the bottom of the seventh inning, but a leadoff walk got Richie Piazza on base, Austin Drury singled him home, and Goebel followed with a hit to leftfield to score Drury as Wiregrass Ranch beat the Eagles 3-2.
Wiregrass Ranch (19-6) hosts Sickles on Tuesday.
The Class 7A, District 8 champions had ridden strong pitching — Zach Drury threw a no-hitter in the district championship — and defense to get to Wednesday’s quarterfinal. But down the stretch, it appeared everything was going the Eagles’ way.
Brandon (16-10), which scored its runs in the third inning on a Ryan Anderson RBI double and a Bulls throwing error, replaced starting pitcher Antonio Velez with Anderson in the fifth inning. Immediately, the senior right-hander started shutting down the Bulls, striking out four of the six batters he faced in the fifth and sixth innings.
“Going into the bottom of the seventh with a one-run lead with our guy Ryan on the mound,” Brandon coach Matthew Stallbaumer said, “I would have taken that on the ride over here.”
Wiregrass Ranch’s only run going into the final frame was scored on a Zach Drury RBI single in the third inning. But just three outs away from pitching his team to a victory, Anderson walked Piazza, the Bulls’ eight-hole hitter, giving Goebel the chance to work his late-game magic.
They were just five days removed from their first district title, but a black banner heralding the Bulls’ feat already hung on the fence by the entrance to Wiregrass Ranch’s stadium. Thanks to Goebel’s clutch hit, the Bulls still have the chance to add another banner before the season comes to a close.
And as far as he’s concerned, Wednesday’s win was evidence enough that it might not be a pipe dream after all.
“This team, I think we can do anything,” Goebel said. “We get ourselves down, I think we can always pull ourselves out.”