NEW PORT RICHEY — Hernando had no problem getting over last week’s heartbreaking loss to Tavares in the district title game.
Now the Leopards will have a chance at revenge.
USF commit Brandon Lawson allowed only one run while striking out 10 and blasting a monster home run to lead Hernando to a 5-1 victory at Ridgewood in Wednesday night’s Class 5A region quarterfinal.
Hernando (17-10) will travel to Tavares (14-13) for Tuesday’s region semifinal after the Bulldogs used a late rally to topple Pasco 3-2.
“We’ll battle like we have every time,” Lawson said.
If Lawson and the Leopards battle as they did Wednesday, Tavares will be in for a challenge. Five days after Hernando’s 11-9 loss in the district title, the Leopards took out their frustration on Ridgewood (12-11).
The Leopards used a lead-off double by Brandon Gemmiti, an RBI single by catcher Jake Johnson and an RBI by Brooks Timmons to take a 2-0 lead in the first.
That early offensive outburst was enough to give Hernando confidence with its 6-foot-2 junior right-hander on the mound.
“He’s still a puppy, but you know you have a chance against anyone,” Leopards coach Tim Sims said.
The only hiccup of Lawson’s 107-pitch complete game came in the bottom of the first when Rams speedster Robert McCabe scored on a wild pitch. But Lawson settled down after that. Using a spot-on fastball, Lawson struck out the side in the second inning and allowed only three hits and two walks the rest of the night.
His offense came through with 11 hits, and his defense made key stops to make sure his record improved to 7-3. The biggest boost came from Lawson’s bat.
After Johnson’s RBI single extended the lead to 3-1, Lawson came up looking for a fastball from Ridgewood ace Joseph Hloska (five runs allowed, seven strikeouts).
“I got my fastball,” Lawson said, “and I turned on it.”
Lawson crushed Hloska’s pitch and drove it an estimated 380 feet to centerfield. Lawson called the two-run homer the hardest ball he’s ever hit.
“He got into that one pretty good,” Johnson said.
Hernando’s defense kept Ridgewood out of reach. Gemmiti dropped his glove at second base in the bottom of the fifth but still gunned down a Ram at the plate to save a run. Johnson added a diving catch on a pop-up bunt in the sixth.
Florida shortstop commit Christian Arroyo finished 1-for-3 with a walk in a game delayed 40 minutes because of lightning.
One of Pasco County’s other teams also saw its season finish Wednesday when Pasco’s roller-coaster year ran out of steam with a late collapse.
The Pirates (18-9) and Tavares were tied at 2 in the bottom of the seventh before the Bulldogs eked out the victory.
“Tavares is a tough, gritty team,” Hernando’s Sims said. “They’ve earned their trip to the sweet 16, just like we have.”
Matt Baker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.