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.”
6A: Warriors not tripped up this time
SEMINOLE — For the fifth straight year, Osceola was playing in the region quarterfinals. Nearly all of those appearances were tight games not decided until the final inning, often with heartbreaking outcomes.
Osceola found a way to pull through this time, scoring in the bottom of the seventh inning to win 2-1 against Leto.
It is the first time the Warrriors (16-10) have won a region quarterfinal since 2009. And the winning run came from an unlikely source.
Abbi Jimenez, Osceola’s No. 9 hitter, started things off with a single, his third hit of the game. Austin Brockway followed with a sacrifice bunt that moved Jimenez to second. Mike Kleinman was then intentionally walked to load the bases.
That set it up for Justin Kremer, who hit a ball deep to centerfield for a sacrifice fly that brought home Jimenez.
“Usually in the first round of the playoffs, you’re going to get a tight game,” Warriors coach Stefan Futch said. “Both teams are rested and throwing their No. 1 guy. You just need a break to go your way and we finally got one from Abbi that put us over the hump.”
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.
Osceola countered in the fourth inning when Jake Rek walked, stole second, moved to third on a groundout by Luke Hains and scored on a passed ball.
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.”
6A: Dixie Hollins ace strong in defeat
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.
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,” King coach Jim Macaluso said. “I gave him a hug at the end and said, ‘Son, you could have easily won this game.’ ”
5A: Dunedin shakes off errors, rallies
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.
More 5A: Three runs on eight hits was all Jesuit needed to slip past Lakewood 3-0 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.
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, Tigers coach Richie 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.”
3A: Paul gets CCC one step closer
CLEARWATER — During Clearwater Central Catholic’s 16-game early-season win streak, coach Todd Vaughan said the only thing that matters is winning the final five.
One down, four to go.
The Marauders erupted for 10 hits and starter David Paul pitched a complete-game two-hitter Thursday in a 9-1 win over Sarasota Cardinal Mooney in the Class 3A region quarterfinal. The win sets up a district final rematch against Calvary Christian on Tuesday at CCC.
“We have some seniors who have been through this before,” Vaughan said. “They know it’s not just one game. In the past, we’ve had some teams win a regional game and jump around like we’ve won it all. It takes more than one game.”
It took an inning for Paul to settle down. The Cougars got their only run in the first inning on Bucky Bonynge’s RBI single with two out. A single then loaded the bases, but Paul got Nick Bisplighoff to fly out.
“I was working too fast in the first inning,” Paul said. “I usually get those first-inning jitters and I just have to work through it.”
He helped his own cause in the bottom of the first. Paul drove in Johnny Karaphillis with a one out single to tie the game. He then broke the game open in the third with a hit-and-run single that scored both Karaphillis and Derek Gibree.
With Paul cruising on the mound, his teammates got plenty of insurance runs in the fourth. The Marauders scored six runs, all with two out, to take an eight-run lead.
Karaphillis had an RBI single that scored two runs. Gibree and Brenden Overton had RBI singles. And two Cougar errors allowed the final two runs of the inning to score.
Cardinal Mooney had more errors (three) than hits (two).
“We did what we had to do in that inning,” Karaphillis said. “We got the key hits when we needed them. We’ve been doing that all season.”
Paul did not give up a hit after the first. He had four strikeouts and walked two. He also 2-for-4 with three RBIs. Karaphillis was 2-for-4 with two RBIs.
3A: Solid pitching propels Calvary
Calvary Christian’s Johnnie Schneider and Nate Reed shared the role of hero Thursday night at Sarasota Out-of-Door. Schneider had the winning RBI when he singled home Matt Piatt in the top of the eighth, and Reed pitched a complete-game one-hitter in a 1-0 win.
“That really was a heck of a baseball game,” Calvary Christian coach Greg Olsen said. “Both teams played very well. And Nate pitched about as well as he’s pitched all season.”
Reed had 10 strikeouts.
The top of the eighth inning started with a Piatt walk. He was sacrificed to second then moved to third on a Jake Richardson groundout.
Then Schneider singled and Piatt scored the game’s only run.
2A: Canterbury bats come to life
ST. PETERSBURG — In a game that was called after five innings, Canterbury advanced in the 2A regionals, beating Southwest Florida Christian 12-6.
The Crusaders opened the scoring in the bottom of the first. After starting pitcher Patrick Walsh singled to left and stole second, he came around to score on a single by David Rodica. Rodica crossed home plate on Steven Valentine’s hit up the middle.
Canterbury (11-14) opened up the game with six runs in the second. Two Crusaders crossed the plate on passed balls, and singles by Rodica, David Siegel and Valentine added another four runs.
When the game resumed, the Crusaders tacked on another two runs off Siegel’s double.
Southwest Florida Christian made a lot of noise in the top of the fourth, hitting a couple of singles and taking advantage of Canterbury miscues to close the gap to 10-6. The Crusaders added runs in the fourth and fifth innings for the final score.
After about a 25-minute delay following the fifth, the umpires called the game on account of the field being unplayable because of the rain.
The game was first delayed after the top of the third because of a steady downpour. In that frame, Walsh was impressive during the steady drizzle, striking out the side.
What stood out to Crusaders coach Dave Smith was his team’s offense.
“I was very pleased with the way we hit the ball,” said Smith. “It’s really nice to see us putting some runs on the board.”
Staff writer Rodney Page and correspondents Bryan Burns, Andy Warrener, David Rice and Anthony Salveggi contributed to this report.
Photo: Though he doesn’t get the win, Dixie Hollins pitcher John Hollis, top, receives kudos from the opposing coach.