ZEPHYRHILLS — His team was clinging to a two run-lead in the top of the seventh. Runners occupied second and third. His third right-hander of the night was fading, and he was fresh out of pitchers.
But not gamers. So with one out and the Class 4A, District 8 tournament title on the line Friday against a scrappy Nature Coast club, Pasco coach Ricky Giles handed the ball to shortstop and team captain Jake Schrader.
"If I was gonna leave outta here tonight, I was gonna leave with Jake," Giles said. "Sometimes when you've got a guy like that, you've got to ride that horse."
It turned out to be a victory gallop. Schrader, who had thrown one inning all season, allowed a run on an infield groundout on his first pitch. A few pitches later, he hustled home on a passed ball and tagged out Justin Tewey at the plate, preserving a wild 10-9 Pirates triumph and setting off a title celebration on the field of their archrival.
Schrader "was just relaxed, ready to go," said catcher Jorge Jaramillo, who closed his glove a little too soon on a Schrader curve, resulting in the passed ball. "You couldn't ask for anything else."
Counting both teams, Schrader was the sixth pitcher to take the hill on a night that seemed destined to evolve into a home-run derby. Pasco, which used No. 3 pitcher Brennan Allen the day before (its No. 1 and 2 pitchers are hurt), was playing its third game in four days. Nature Coast (13-8) was playing a third consecutive night.
As a result, the contest featured six home runs, three by each team. Schrader and Allen each had three-run blasts for the No. 2-seeded Pirates (20-7), while Cole Stancil had a solo shot. Freshman Tommy Tambasco, who had three doubles in a semifinal win against top-seeded Springstead, had a two-run shot for Nature Coast, as did Matt Adams. Eddie Castro had a solo homer.
"I told them we're in a slugfest, and that's what it was," said Giles, who has led Pasco to 16 consecutive playoff appearances. "Both teams battled."