BROOKSVILLE — In its first state playoff appearance since 2004, Hernando proved itself worthy in the same way it has all season — with a comeback victory in the late innings.
Defending their homefield advantage, the Leopards defeated Mitchell 7-5 in the Class 4A region quarterfinals Tuesday.
"People have to beat us," Hernando coach Tim Sims said. "To play for me, you better have an extremely short memory."
Hernando (20-9) started slowly, as Mitchell starter Garrett Kriston retired the first 11 batters in order. He dominated, leading the Mustangs (18-11) to a 2-0 lead going into the bottom of the fourth.
Then the Hernando offense began to find its stroke at the plate. The Leopards scored two runs courtesy of three Mitchell errors in the fourth. That momentum was just enough to spark the home team. They plated another three in the fifth and two in the sixth.
Hernando ace Justin Gates, who was clearly laboring as the sixth and seventh innings came on, put on a workmanlike effort.
Though his line wasn't overly impressive (seven innings, seven hits, five earned runs), he pitched a complete game without surrendering a walk and struck out seven. With a two-run lead in the final frame, he struck out the final two batters in a 1-2-3 seventh.
"(Gates) looked at me because he didn't want to come out of the game," Sims said. "He was the key cog because he was there to finish this one for us."