LAND O'LAKES — For a young, talented Land O'Lakes squad, Tuesday's game against Hernando was a lesson in perseverance.
The Gators found themselves behind 5-0 after one inning with Leopards ace Brett Maggard on the mound, yet they didn't panic.
The Gators also didn't sulk when they allowed Hernando to tie the score in the seventh inning, just one out from victory.
Instead, the Gators battled and, in the process, registered their biggest win of season, defeating previously unbeaten Hernando 8-7.
"I'm proud of our guys," Land O'Lakes coach Calvin Baisley said. "Down 5-0 to a really good team, they could have folded the tent real early. They came back and kept fighting. That was a big win for us."
After Hernando (9-1) scored two runs in the top of the seventh to stay alive and tie the score at 7, Land O'Lakes (6-2) finally finished off the Leopards for good in the bottom half of the inning.
Trey McNickle drew a leadoff walk, moved to second on Cameron Miller's sacrifice bunt and advanced to third on a wild pitch. With two outs and facing a 0-2 count, the Gators' Trae Urban smacked an opposite-field single to right to plate the winning run.
"This is the first time that we've really been in a close game against a good team that we've won," Baisley said. "We've been in a few close games and managed to kick it away or had things not go our way."
The Gators nearly let the game get away from them in the first inning after the Leopards built a 5-0 advantage.
Christian Arroyo singled home the game's first run, then Maggard uncorked a three-run home run to rightfield for a 4-0 Hernando lead. Taylor Owensby added a RBI single for the Leopards' fifth run off of Land O'Lakes starter Brad Hencke in the opening inning.
After that, Hencke settled himself and his teammates. He shut out the Leopards over the next four innings to keep the Gators in the game.
"I give Hencke a lot of credit," Baisley said. "After that first inning, he settled down and gave us a chance to claw back."
Land O'Lakes' Gino Pepenella singled home a run in the second to cut the lead to 5-1. The Gators got three more in the third on Pepenella's hit that scored two runs, and a RBI single from Steven Rosario.
Pepenella collected his fourth RBI in the fourth on another single to tie the score at 5. Rosario followed with a base hit, and Pepenella scored on an error on the play for the go-ahead run.
Trailing 7-5, Hernando was down to its final out in the seventh before an error and two infield singles loaded the bases. The Leopards' J.T. Simpson then delivered a two-RBI single to tie the score.
Urban, however, delivered the game's final blow.
"We have some plays we normally make that we didn't make tonight," Hernando coach Tim Sims said. "If we make them, it's a different game. But that's also high school baseball."