TAMPA — For six innings Friday night, Leto played like a team on the cusp of becoming one of Hillsborough County's best. Hosting Class 5A-9 foe Gaither, the Falcons beat the perennial power Cowboys at baseball's basics through the numbing cold.
Until the final inning.
That's when the Cowboys —down to their final three outs — rallied for an improbable seven-run seventh inning for their sixth straight win, 7-5, taking control of the district race.
"One thing is we don't give up," Gaither coach Frank Permuy said. "They always feel that there's going to be one inning when we do something. I just couldn't believe we got seven. It doesn't happen too often. It happened at the right time for us, that's all I can say."
Leto left-hander Brian Fisher frustrated the Cowboys (7-1, 5-1) for five shutout innings and Gaither stranded 11 runners before its final-inning fireworks. The Falcons (5-4, 4-2) also took advantage of four Gaither errors, scoring all of their runs with two outs.
The Falcons went up 2-0 in the second when Elias Duran was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded. That was followed by a run-scoring walk to Vinny Nunez, who had an RBI single to make the score 3-0 in the fourth.
Leto added another run in the fifth when the throw to catch Fisher stealing third flew into leftfield. Kevin Vidal scored the Falcons' final run in the sixth on a two-out passed ball.
That 5-0 lead wouldn't be enough. In the top of the seventh, Gaither sent 12 batters to the plate against three Leto pitchers, opening the inning by drawing three walks to load the bases. Zack Jackson's double down the leftfield line, combined with an error in left that put Jackson at third, cleared the bases to make it 5-3.
Jackson scored on a wild pitch, and three batters later — following a walk to Hayden Kelley and a Cody Robinson single — a dropped pop-up allowed Kelley to tie the game and close Leto's lead.
Gaither loaded the bases again with two outs, and cleanup hitter Tyler Siegel's single up the middle scored the Cowboys' final two runs.
"I have a whole different perspective when it comes to baseball than most people," Leto coach J.J. Pizzio said. "I have a team that's not supposed to win. I have a group of young players that aren't supposed to make all the plays. They made most of them tonight.
"For six innings, we played where we should be. And for one inning we played maybe how young and inexperienced players play."