CLEARWATER — With the score tied at 2, Wiregrass Ranch coach Jeff Swymer made a tough decision to pull starter Zach Drury after just a third of an inning.
But Drury’s lefty younger brother, Austin, took over and shut out Countryside the rest of the way as the Bulls continued their first-ever playoff march with a 5-2 Class 7A region quarterfinal win Saturday.
“We preached about changing the culture in the program, and now we’re in the playoffs,” said Swymer, in his fourth year helming the team. “It’s going to help our program. It’s going to help us down the road. It’s huge for us.”
Countryside starter Jake Mielock found himself in a jam right away after allowing Marcus Guzman’s rightfield single in the top of the first, then welcoming him to second base after a wild pitch to Zach Drury.
Mielock then walked junior shortstop Michael Campoamor to put runners on the corners with two outs for Shane Bucenell. The first baseman hit a grounder straight to shortstop Charlie Skantze, but his throw went wide of first baseman Christian Townsend, allowing the first two runs to score.
Zach Drury came out in the bottom of the inning already up 2-0, but Skantze made up for his error by slamming a double on Drury’s first pitch. Zach Taylor’s groundout moved Skantze to third, then he went home on a Drury wild pitch.
Drury loaded the bases after that, walking Bobby Krayer and giving the Cougars a chance to take a big lead with just one out.
“When you’re No. 1 comes in, and for whatever reason, has a mechanical breakdown, you have to have guys behind him,” Swymer said. “(Austin) was clutch as heck today.”
Zach Drury didn’t let his troubled pitching outing get him down. He came roaring right back in the second inning to hit a two-run, two-out single that put Wiregrass Ranch ahead for good. The older Drury finished 2-for-4 with two RBIs.
It was lights out from there as Austin Drury pitched five innings, scattering four hits and striking out five. He gave way to Ryan Girard, who allowed just a single hit, a pair of walks and chalked up a strikeout in a marathon game that lasted just under three hours.
“These guys are fighters, and there was no question that we were going to rally,” Countryside coach Kemo O’Sullivan said. “We just didn’t get it. We didn’t have that bounce.”
Guzman finished 2-for-2 with an RBI for Wiregrass Ranch (18-9), but he may not be with the team when they face Steinbrenner in the regional semifinals next week. He was ejected in the fourth inning after an RBI double. Making a huge turn on second base, he was caught in a rundown, and collided with Townsend, who had come in as the relief pitcher.
Swymer said he would have to wait for the Florida High School Athletic Association to decide if the senior outfielder will play.
Even with the win, Swymer said his team still has some work to do in practice Monday.
“We made every inning interesting, I’ll tell you that,” Swymer said. “I don’t know if our pitchers know what a first-pitch strike is, but they are going to get reminded on Monday. We got behind on the counts, and we’re thankful that they popped some balls on 3-0 and 2-1 counts where they were aggressive.
“We got to be better.”
6A: Land O’Lakes buried by two innings
WINTER HAVEN — In the first three innings Saturday, Winter Haven managed to get just one batter on base in its Class 6A region quarterfinal against Land O’Lakes.
In the next two, the Blue Devils had 11 hits and scored 12 runs to beat Land O’Lakes 12-2 in five innings in a game that was originally scheduled for Wednesday night but was postponed by rain three straight days.
Winter Haven (24-4) advances to Tuesday’s region semifinal at Mitchell.
Blue Devils coach Pat Borders said he thought the layoff may have been a factor early.
“We hadn’t played for nine days,” he said. “Sometimes, it takes a little while to get up to game speed.”
As odd as it sounds, in a 12-2 game, it was a pair of bunts that helped turn the game for the Blue Devils, who were held to one hit through three innings by Land O’Lakes pitcher Zachary Whitaker.
The first one came after Luke Borders led off the fourth with a single. Mitch Piatnik laid down a sacrifice bunt and Land O’Lakes catcher Nathan Grant’s throw to first sailed over the head of first baseman Kyle Sheffield. Borders scored and Piatnik ended up on second.
Piatnik scored on a single by Matt Saliba, who was bunted to second and scored on a single by Josh Olechnowicz.
In the fifth, David Whann led off with a double, then Ruggie Odor laid down a bunt that Whitaker couldn’t field, and Borders followed with his third single of the day.
Until Winter Haven’s half of the fourth, Land O’Lakes (21-7) was the more aggressive team on offense. The Gators had three hits, a walk and two runs in the first inning against Piatnik.
“I was a little nervous pitching a regional game,” Piatnik said. “The first inning, I got the butterflies out and it was easier from there.”
Piatnik (10-0) allowed just two more hits and worked out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the fourth inning on a pair of groundouts.