WESLEY CHAPEL — The shot with the most sting might still be rolling through Wesley Chapel's grass practice fields beyond the school's leftfield fence.
Credit Hernando leadoff batter Matt Brady, whose bat met the fourth pitch of the night so soundly it may have been the equivalent to a right hook on the chin.
No one would argue it sparked an offensive locomotive that carried the Leopards with a enough steam to a 7-4 victory in a Class 4A region semifinal.
The win sends Hernando (21-9) to its first region final since 2004 and ends the best season in Wesley Chapel (24-4) history.
"Every other playoff game we'd give up a run early but not because someone mashed the ball," Wildcats coach Chuck Yingling said. "…I did think it took a little air out of us, took us a few innings to get back in it."
Brady's hit sparked a three-run first inning thanks to hits and runs from Louis Colaiacomo, Ian Townsend and Taylor Owensby. The trio struck again in the third with a Colaiacomo single followed by a Townsend RBI double and a Owensby RBI single for a 5-0 lead.
"That home run set the tone of the whole game," Colaiacomo said. "…We don't like going 1-2-3 in the first inning. This was the perfect time not to go 1-2-3."
Wesley Chapel was held to one hit through four innings by Leopards starter Austin Rollins. The Wildcats broke through in the fifth with runs by Andres Rumero and Robert Dumas to cut the deficit to 5-2.
Owensby then led the sixth with a single. He made his way around the bases, ultimately scoring on a wild pitch for a 6-2 lead.
Wesley Chapel scored two more times in the sixth on runs by Keagan Tanner and Chris Dominguez to make it 6-4. But the Leopards put one more on the scoreboard in the seventh thanks to an RBI triple by Townsend, scoring Colaiacomo from first to put the game out of reach.
Hernando coach Tim Sims he went as far as to search through old scorebooks during the days Steve Mumaw, now a Wesley Chapel assistant, was the head coach, searching for how he called pitches.
Hernando now has won 12 of 13 games, including a district title. Not bad for a team once 6-6 on March 18 following a 13-1 loss at Land O'Lakes.
"It's neat this particular region has some really good teams this year," Sims said. "We just happen to be the one that comes out of it."
Izzy Gould can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 421-3886.