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TAMPA — Exactly one month ago, King was 9-8. Since then the Lions have won nine straight, including a 6-2 win over Osceola to send them to the Class 6A region semifinal against Lakewood Ranch on Tuesday.
“It’s not one thing,” coach Jim Macaluso said about the streak. “We’ve had good starting pitching, we’ve swung the bat better from the middle down, and we’ve played really good defense, catching the ball behind our pitchers. It’s a little bit of everything, and one big thing is confidence.”
It has been a metamorphosis for King (19-8). The two runs the Warriors scored — the last one came on a wild pitch with two out in the seventh — were the first the Lions have given up this postseason.
For the second consecutive game, King recorded no errors. And the return of second baseman Tanner Williams just in time for the playoffs allowed Brett Morales to refocus on pitching, and he turned in his second complete game of the postseason — matching his season high for strikeouts with nine. Five of those came against the game’s first seven batters.
“It was adrenaline; I was geared up, ready to go,” Morales said. “Glad to be back on the mound.”
Morales also had the hit that broke a 1-1 tie in the fifth. After Keon Barnum, who was 2-for-2 with a pair of line drive singles to rightfield, was intentionally walked, Morales singled to left to score Donnell Taylor. Catcher Ian Lynch drove in Barnum with a double, and King added three more after two Osceola errors.
The win puts King one step closer to its second trip to states in three years, a fact not lost on the current squad.
“We’ve got a little streak going,” Morales said. “We feel like we can get to states, we’ve just got to work one game at a time.”
Lakewood Ranch 8, Sickles 1: At Bradenton, the only coach in Sickles history watched his team set a school single-game record for errors — nine — in a deflating defeat.
“It was a debacle,” Gryphons coach Bob Pagano said.
Eight of the Gryphons’ miscues occurred in the fourth as the Mustangs capitalized with seven runs to break a 1-all deadlock. All eight Lakewood Ranch runs were unearned.
“It was just horrific,” Pagano said. “The pitchers did fine. We couldn’t field, we couldn’t throw, we couldn’t catch. …Everybody’s just stunned.”
Wharton 2, Sarasota Riverview 1 (12): In Wharton’s third consecutive extra-inning marathon, the Wildcats slipped past Sarasota Riverview. Four pitchers combined for 23 1/3 innings, 27 strikeouts and two earned runs.
The Wildcats missed out on scoring opportunities in the fifth, seventh and eighth innings. Riverview left-hander Sean Labsan would not let Wharton be aggressive on the bases.
“We couldn’t run on him,” said Wildcats coach Scott Hoffman. “We’ve seen a lot of good pitchers this year, and he’s right up there.”
The Wildcats started scoring early. Junior Tuck Neuhaus took the first pitch over the rightfield wall. He hit one over the fence in his second at-bat that was ruled a double.
“I had a dream last night that I would hit the first pitch of this game out of the park,” he said.
Then the scoring evaporated. Senior Shaun Rubin went five innings, fanning five and walking none, and senior Collin Woody came on in relief, pitching seven innings and striking out 11 while walking two.
“It’s more fun to win at the end of these games that just a seven-inning game,” said Woody.
The Wildcats, who picked off three runners, stranded 10 of their own. In the 12th they loaded the bases for junior Brett Kaminski. He fouled off one pitch, took another then the next pitch hit him square in the back. The winning run walked in.
Durant 3, East Lake 0: Nothing was going to stop Durant pitcher Trey Oest against East Lake. Not a flu bug that forced him to the hospital on Sunday. Not a one-hour, four-minute power outage delay. And certainly not the East Lake bats.
Oest hurled a two-hit complete-game shutout for the Cougars (16-9).
“I knew I’d be a little sluggish but my team gave me the runs we needed,” Oest said. “I was just about dead on Sunday. I needed to get IVs. I missed school on Monday. It’s the sickest I’ve ever been. But I wasn’t going to miss this game.”
Oest was locked in a pitcher’s duel with East Lake starter Eric Hanhold for the first four innings. Both pitchers plowed through the opponent’s lineup, but East Lake ran into trouble in the top of the fourth.
Durant’s Luke Heyer led off the inning with a double and got to third on a wild pitch. With two outs, Brett Ducker hit a grounder to shortstop Nick Mazzoni, who bobbled the ball and was unable to make a play, which allowed Heyer to score.
A walk and a base hit pushed Ducker to third. Then a Hanhold wild pitch allowed Ducker to score.
Oest got two outs in the bottom of the fourth, then the lights went out. When the game resumed, Oest stayed on the mound and got the third out. Hanhold was replaced by Tyler Ramsey.
“I was coming back in,” Oest said. “It was a big game and I really wanted this win.”
Oest carried a no hitter into the sixth inning. It was spoiled when Justin DiSanto doubled to right-centerfield with two outs. Oest got out of that jam, and his teammates gave him one more run in the top of the seventh.
Tyler Danish reached with one out on another error by Mazzoni. With two outs, Heyer singled Danish home from second.
East Lake got two on in the bottom of the seventh, but Oest struck out Tyler Neuhaus to end the game.
“(Oest) did a phenomenal job, but that’s what we’ve been getting from him for four years,” Durant coach Butch Valdes said.
All three of Durant’s runs were unearned. Hanhold and Ramsey scattered seven hits and struck out nine.
“Hanhold and Ramsey pitched well,” East Lake coach Dan Genna said. “You just knew it was going to be a pitcher’s duel. One team was going to give up a big inning. It was us. But, hey, that’s a good team. That team will probably go another two rounds.”
Berkeley Prep 6, Frostproof 1: Trent Thompson was at less than his best. It was still good enough to send host Berkeley Prep to victory.
The Bucs (15-11) staked Thompson to a 4-0 first-inning lead and the junior right-hander made it stand up with a solid six-inning performance.
“Trent showed a lot of character,” Berkeley Prep coach Justin Holland said. “He didn’t have his best stuff. But the thing about Trent and about our pitching staff is they understand how to win.”
Thompson (4-1) allowed only three singles and an unearned run. He struck out five, walked two and threw 55 of 82 pitches for strikes. Dante Bosnic finished up with a perfect seventh.
Berkeley Prep sent 10 batters to the plate in the first against Frostproof (16-9) and freshman starter Josh Baber (7-2). Victor Pellegrino’s lead-off triple ignited the rally, which included four hits and three walks. Three runs were unearned as Frostproof third baseman Jacob
Smith booted Thompson’s grounder with the bases loaded. Todd Rancke and Bosnic contributed RBI singles in the inning.
“It was important for us to get off to a good start,” Holland said. “It all started with our senior, Vic Pellegrino. He did a great job, getting a triple down the (rightfield) line. I’m very proud of the way the guys came out swinging the bats offensively.”
Pellegrino led the Bucs’ eight-hit attack with two hits and two runs scored.
Tampa Catholic 6, Avon Park 1: At Avon Park, senior left-hander Luke Helms tossed a one-hitter to set up a fourth meeting with Berkeley Prep. The Bucs won two of the previous three encounters.
Helms got RBI contributions from Jorge Romero, Orlando Diaz, Kyle Barber and Dre Leal.
Cambridge 26, Lakeland Sonrise Christian 2: At Tampa, the Lancers (22-5) collected eight extra-base hits in their four-inning annihilation. Senior Tommy Robertson double and tripled, while Levi and Luke Gilcrease and Zach Hessinger also tripled. Senior left-hander Matt Mullins struck out nine.
Winter Haven All Saints’ 4, Bayshore Christian 0: Carson Fulmer pitched a two-hit shutout and struck out 17 for host All Saints’ (18-8). Bayshore finishes 13-5.
Staff writers Rodney Page and Joey Knight, and correspondents Don Jensen and Andy Warrener contributed to this report.