TAMPA — King senior right-hander Brett Morales admits that it sometimes takes him an inning or two to get comfortable on the mound.
Once Morales locks in, however, he’s usually unshakable.
On Thursday, even a 30-minute lightning delay couldn’t break Morales’ concentration.
The Florida signee threw a three-hitter in King’s region quarterfinal against Dixie Hollins and struck out 11 to lead the Lions to a 1-0 victory.
“We didn’t get the run support that we usually get,” Morales said. “But I’ve played in a couple 1-0 ball games, so I knew I needed to buckle down and finish the game out.”
After allowing a base runner in each of the first three innings, Morales settled, striking out the side in the fourth, before the game was temporarily halted by lightning with one out in the top of the fifth. When both teams returned to the field, Morales struck out four of the next six batters.
In the seventh, Morales gave up his first walk of the game with one out, but the Lions (25-3) turned a 4-6-3 double play with first baseman Bubby Terp stretching low and far to his right to field a wide throw from second and end the game.
“They handle adversity really well, whether it’s an injury, an umpire’s call, the weather, they do a great job,” King coach Jim Macaluso said. “I’ve been doing this 38 years and for high school kids, that’s hard.”
John Hollis was just as effective for the Rebels (11-15), giving up only five hits with no walks. The senior was undone, however, by a leadoff double from Terp in the third inning. Terp advanced to third on an error and, with one out, scored on Devon Pedro’s sacrifice fly.
Hollis got out of a one-out, bases-loaded jam in the fourth by striking out Kevin Buckley and Terp back to back. Other than the third and fourth innings, Hollis stymied King’s vaunted offense.
“We’d heard good reports on (Hollis), and he was everything I thought,” Macaluso said. “I gave him a hug at the end and said, ‘Son, you could have easily won this game.’ ”
6A: Leto falls just short
Osceola scored in the bottom of the seventh inning to win 2-1 against Leto in Seminole in the 6A region quarterfinal.
The Falcons (13-12) scored in the first inning. Dennis Morales led off with a single, moved to third on an error and came home on a single by Jossue Guzzman.
Warriors starter Keith Weisenberg helped keep Leto off the scoreboard by snagging a hard shot that sent back to him for the final out in the sixth inning.
That set up Osceola’s rally in the seventh inning.
“We’re not the greatest team,” Leto coach JJ Pizzio said. “We thrive by taking advantage of what the other team gives us. Osceola didn’t give us much and did what they had to do at the end to win.”
8A: Wharton hangs tough until the 10th
EAST LAKE — East Lake’s Troy Strominger had seen curveballs and off-speed pitches all night, and hadn’t fared too well against them, going 0-for-3 with three strikeouts.
But the last one he saw?
He liked that one just fine.
Strominger solidly drove a full-count curveball into left field to score Tyler Neuhaus from third, breaking a scoreless deadlock and giving East Lake a dramatic 10-inning, 1-0 victory over Wharton Thursday night.
The win ends the Wildcats’ (12-15) improbable run from being winless in their district to making the playoffs. The Eagles won their ninth one-run game this season.
East Lake (24-3) escaped two bases-loaded situations in the second and fifth innings, but also ran itself out of chances by making three outs at third base.
But it was that aggressive style — not to mention some exceptional plate discipline — that eventually set up the winning inning.
With one out in the 10th, Neuhaus worked a walk off Wharton reliever Colin Birch after falling behind 0-2 in the count, and Cameron Churchill — lifted for a pinch-hitter his previous at-bat before being reinserted — singled.
A double steal proved successful to put runners on second and third, but Birch (3-5) struck out Sawyer Wirth for the second out before Strominger came to the plate. The last time he said he was in a similar situation, in a 1-0 loss to Tallahassee Mosely in the
Dunedin Easter Tournament final, he grounded out to third.
This time, he delivered.
“It was another curveball. Third one in a row,” Strominger said. “You don’t want to be thinking curveball with a 3-2 count, but after my fourth at-bat, I knew what they were trying to do.”
Strominger looked fastball, but sat back on Birch’s offering, which hung chest high, right in his wheelhouse.
The win capped a night of brilliant pitching by both teams.
East Lake starter Ryan Wall gave up just one hit in 4.2 innings, and was matched by Wharton’s Tristan DeLuna.
Out for much of the season with tendinitis in his right arm, DeLuna didn’t allow a ball to be hit out of the infield until the fifth inning, and went eight innings while allowing just two hits — a double to Neuhaus, who was thrown out trying to make it a triple, and a bunt single by Wirth.
But the pitcher of the night was East Lake’s Brad Depperman, who relieved Wall with the bases loaded and two outs in the fifth inning.
Depperman, who also made a game-saving play in the second inning while playing third base, struck out Reed Gray to get out of that jam and didn’t allow another runner to get past second in his 5.2 innings of work. He struck out the first five batters he faced, needing just 20 pitches, and allowed just one hit. Depperman (6-1) struck out 10 in all.
“Bulldog,” East Lake coach Dan Genna said afterward, in unison with a few other coaches and a handful of players.
“I hope the scouts saw that.”
8A: Danish deflects taunts for the win
DURANT — Rain was threatening, thunder rumbled in the distance, and the opposing dugout was taunting him with “all-star” on nearly every imperfect pitch. Yet, Tyler Danish could not be rattled, pitching a complete-game 2-0 shutout of Sarasota Riverview (20-7), leading Durant to the Class 8A region semifinals.
Danish allowed just two hits but didn’t give up a walk while striking out 12. His stoicism made easy work of the Rams, throwing 77 pitches with just 20 missing the strike zone.
“I was always taught to keep a poker face, so I don’t show any emotion out there,” Danish said. “That kind of helped me a lot coming out here to the game where there was a lot of trash talking coming at me.”
Durant (22-5) won its first home playoff game in 12 years, and did it all in the bottom of the third thanks to a pair of walks, a hit and a sacrifice fly allowed by Riverview ace Sean Labsan.
After Cade Kelley walked to start the inning, Garrett Wright knocked a slow grounder to Labsan who made what should have been a routine throw to first base. But Alex Detweiler pulled off the bag, allowing Kelley to advance into scoring position at second.
Labsan then walked Danish to load the bases. That set up Luke Heyer, who hit a shallow single to leftfield and scored Wright.
Paxton Sims hit a sacrifice fly in the next at-bat, which brought courtesy runner Corey Hamm home for the final run.
“We had to mix it up a little bit since we didn’t play small ball like we were supposed to do,” Durant coach Butch Valdes said. “But we know that if we can get two runs on the board, that’s enough for T.D.”
Danish finished 2-for-2 with a walk to support his victory, while Chaz Fowler went 2-for-3. Only Justin Cohen and Cory Labsan tallied hits for the Rams, who finish the season at 20-7.
7A: A win that wasn’t
Plant City thought it had defeated host George Jenkins 2-1 on Thursday night.
Turns out, the game isn’t finished yet. In a ruling from the Florida High School Athletic Association, the game is tied 2-all in the bottom of the seventh inning and will resume Saturday at 4 p.m.
Jenkins had tied with two out and runners at first and third when umpires stopped the game because of rain. The umpires then ruled the game reverted back to the sixth inning, which ended with Plant City leading 2-1.
Jenkins coach Jim Kilborn said Jenkins athletic director Jestin Bailey received an email from the FHSAA about an hour after the game was called stating that the umpires misapplied the rule and that “because Jenkins tied the game, the game is tied and the game must be completed from the point of suspension.”
Kilborn said he had not talked with Plant City coach Mike Fryrear. “The FHSAA will notify them,” he said.
5A: Robinson can't hold off Dunedin
DUNEDIN — Dunedin overcame a resilient Robinson team and six fielding errors to clip the Knights 3-2 in eight innings in a Class 5A region quarterfinal. The Knights went up 2-1 during an error-filled fifth only to have the Falcons tie it in the seventh. Jack Hamrick’s walkoff RBI single in the eighth clinched the win for the Falcons, who were bounced by Robinson in regionals a year ago.
“I knew the kids weren’t gonna quit,” Falcons coach Tom Hilbert said. “We’ve had games this year when we’ve been down but we were never gonna quit.”
Despite a rocky night from starter Alex Hart, the Falcons were able to get just what they needed when they needed it. They scored first after Aaron Chesson hit a pitch off the rightfield wall and Austin Sweat drove him in. The Knights tied it in the fourth on a fielding error then got the go-ahead run off another fielding error in the fifth.
“I looked over at the bullpen in the sixth and seventh innings and no one is warming up,” Hart said. “It means so much when your coach has enough faith in you to get the job done.”
Hart responded by setting down the Knights in order in the sixth and seventh. Then the Falcons’ bats did their part. Eric Sexton hit a single to right that sent courtesy runner Brett Beery home from second.
“He (Hart) is a bulldog,” Hilbert said. “That’s the most I’ve ever gone with a guy, I don’t even know how many pitches he threw; I don’t even want to know. He even tried to run out to the mound in the eighth and I had to stop him.”
It was Hamrick’s turn to take over. The senior moved from third base to the mound and blanked the Knights in the top of the eighth. Hamrick came up in the bottom of the eighth with two out and runners at second and third. He hit a grounder down the third-base line and Robinson’s Zack Sabo stabbed it but couldn’t get Hamrick at first.
“I was just thinking, 'Run, run like heck, get safe,’ ” Hamrick said.
5A: Trayner shines for Jesuit after delay
Three runs on eight hits was all Jesuit needed to slip past Lakewood 3-0 on Thursday night after a two-hour rain delay threatened to postpone the Class 5A region quarterfinal in Tampa.
The Tigers fell back on a solid outing from senior Spencer Trayner, who struck out 10, walked one and gave up only one hit in 5 2/3 innings.
“Our pitching has been our bread and butter all season,” Tigers coach Richie Warren said. “Spencer is obviously very good, that’s why he’s going to North Carolina. Tonight he gives up one hit in almost six innings after being sick early in the week. You need those types of performances in the playoffs if you’re going to get to where we want to go.”
Offensively both teams struggled after the delay, but Jesuit was able to make the most of an early opportunity, scoring two in the bottom of the second through an error that resulted in an RBI for Ricky Caldevilla and a sacrifice fly by Evan Cannan.
While he was less than thrilled by the lack of offense from his team, Warren isn’t worried heading into Tuesday’s game against Dunedin.
“We’re hitting the ball hard just right at guys,” Warren said. “Every team goes through that though, and hopefully over the next few games we can figure out how to put runs on the board. We just have to execute a little better with runners in scoring position.”
4A: Berkeley gets unlikely boost in 10th
TAMPA – Tied in the bottom of the 10th inning, facing two outs and two strikes, Berkeley Prep utility player Danny Brackman could see Chris Erdmier had beckoned him over during a brief timeout.
“Chris told me he and the rest of the team believed in me,” said Brackman, who entered the game hitting .091 in 52 plate appearances. “It felt good to know that.”
Their absurd faith in the slumping sophomore was soon rewarded.
Brackman’s walkoff RBI single lifted the Buccaneers to a 7-6 win over DeSoto County in their Class 4A region quarterfinal Thursday night.
Berkeley Prep (14-14) outlasted the Bulldogs in a game that was delayed nearly four hours because of thunderstorms and lightning and lasted nearly that long because of an improbable series of momentum swings.
“The effort and ability to overcome adversity tonight was one of the best I’ve ever seen,” Berkeley Prep coach Justin Houston said.
After losing seven straight games to close the regular season, the Buccaneers have won three straight to set up a rematch with District 4A-9 rival Tampa Catholic in the region semifinal next week. Berkeley Prep will host Tampa Catholic, a 1-0 inner over Lake Placid.
Berkeley Prep defeated Tampa Catholic in the district final last week to win homefield advantage in the region quarterfinal.
The Bulldogs (11-13) came about 100 miles northwest to play a game that was canceled Wednesday because of rain.
They were forced to make the long ride home losers of a game they led 4-0 after the second inning and managed to tie 6-6 in the seventh after being down to a final out.
The Bucs and DeSoto traded scoreless eighth and ninth innings, setting up the dramatic finish for Brackman and Berkeley Prep.
Anderson Baldy didn’t allow a hit in two innings of relief and then drew a walk in the 10th, putting two runners on base for the Bucs. After Gray Oakley struck out, Brackman came to the plate with the weight of the game on his shoulders.
He came through in the clutch, driving a pitch to right field that scored Nick Kavouklis for the winning run.
“It was just my time,” he said.
3A: Seventh-inning double rescues Terps
TAMPA — Senior Kirby Wilson didn’t hit the ball over the rainbow. He just aimed in the meteorological phenomenon’s general direction.
On the second pitch after trying unsuccessfully to lay down a couple of sacrifice bunts, Wilson socked a two-run double in the bottom of the seventh to give Tampa Prep a 3-2 victory over Lakeland Christian on Thursday in a Class 3A region quarterfinal.
The Terrapins (20-8) had been stymied for six innings by Lakeland Christian loser Brooks Wilson, who started in place of No. 1 ace Logan Browning (broken thumb on his non-throwing hand), the son of former major-league pitcher Tom Browning.
Trailing 2-1, No. 9 batter Zach Lynn singled and Matt Fulton walked to start the seventh for Tampa Prep. Kirby Wilson was instructed to sacrifice, but fouled off the first two attempts. With two strikes, Wilson again wanted to bunt. But he pulled his bat back on an inside pitch and both runners moved into scoring position as the ball went off catcher Andrew Williams’ glove. Wilson then drilled a fastball to right-center, where a rainbow decorated the sky.
“I hit (the ball) right to the rainbow,” Wilson said. “I was trying to hit something to the right side so I could get the runners over, and maybe give Matt (Hodges) a chance to win us the game. I got more of it than I thought I would. I don’t even remember running (the bases).”
After his double, Kirby Wilson slide into the wet infield and was mobbed by his teammates.
“I’m not going (to play) college,” he said. “Baseball is a gift and I’m just trying to play as long as I can.”
2A: Cambridge strikes quickly
TAMPA — Cambridge Christian displayed its superiority on the diamond Thursday with a five-inning 13-3 mercy-rule win over Lakeland Victory Christian in a Class 2A region quarterfinal.
The Lancers got off to a quick start with leadoff hitter Brandon Furr getting on with a single and rounding the bases after a steal and a pair of wild pitches. Junior Levi Gilcrease followed him with his first of two solo home runs as the team took a 3-0 lead after one inning.
“I’ve been in a bit of a mini-slump lately, so those two home runs today were big for me to get my confidence back,” Gilcrease said. “I’ve been spending a lot of time in the cage trying to figure out the little things I’m doing wrong. Warmups went well today and I got comfortable at the plate.”
Senior pitcher Nick Eicholtz threw in front of the usual complement of scouts regularly hitting 90 mph on the radar gun. He threw three shutout innings, giving up one hit and striking out six.
Cambridge coach Sam Marsonek was pleased with his team’s performance despite the Lancers “slacking off” in the top of the fourth inning, allowing three runs that extended the game into the fifth.
“We did what we wanted to do,” Marsonek said. “We just have to keep going one game at a time. Nick is throwing the ball well and we didn’t have to throw him for long today, so that was good. We have three or four guys that when they are on can dominate at the plate. At this level, that’s really all you need.”
More 2A: Host Winter Haven All Saints’ withstood the elements to post a 11-1 victory over Bayshore Christian (7-14) in five innings. The Saints (11-13) jumped out early, scoring three runs in the first inning as leadoff hitter and catcher Steven Pike walked, stole second and third, and scored on a single to leftfield. Pike reached all four times he was up, scoring three runs with two doubles.
Staff writers Joel Anderson and Bob Putnam, and correspondents Don Jensen, David Rice, Michael Hinman and Andy Warrener contributed to this report, which uses information from the Ledger.
Photo: King’s Bubby Terp, left, celebrates his third-inning run with Sam Rowe, which proved to be the winner for the Lions.