TAMPA — The learning curve for King pitcher Brandon Caples has been quicker than even he expected. In the beginning of the season, the 15-year-old freshman right-hander thought 2010 would be his year to soak in high school baseball.
"I thought I'd just sit back and learn," he said. "I guess I learned pretty fast."
In Friday's Class 5A region semifinal, he gave Venice a lesson in pitching.
Caples allowed just four hits in five-plus innings of work, helping the Lions to their first region final since 2003 with a 3-1 victory. King (18-10) will host Seminole in next Friday's region final. On the line: King's first state berth since 1964.
"Every time we ask him to give us three innings," King coach Jim Macaluso said. "He gave us five against Alonso, five against Sickles. Tonight he gave us another great performance and he just battled."
The Lions managed just four hits, and were caught stealing four times, but made enough big plays to win. Slumping leadoff hitter Javaris Reynolds, so frustrated with his swing that he didn't take batting practice Thursday, hit a homer to lead off the fourth.
"I just let all my aggression out on that ball," Reynolds said. "I knew the team needed a hit. I had been putting it into play, just not getting any hits."
The Lions started the scoring on Keon Barnum's run-scoring single in the first, scoring Reynolds. King added a run in the second on Walker's RBI single down the leftfield line.
The Lions got a break at the end of the sixth when it was ruled pinch runner Bucky Maler tagged too early going from second to third on a fly out to center, essentially giving King a rally-killing double play.
Venice (18-11) loaded the bases against senior reliever Karlton Knapp with two outs in the seventh, putting the go-ahead run on first, but he struck out leadoff hitter James Browning to end it.