WESLEY CHAPEL — The initial meeting between Wiregrass Ranch and Land O'Lakes produced a wild back-and-forth affair that the Bulls eventually rallied to win in extra innings.
In Friday's rematch, the Gators' pitching combination of Steven Rosario and Trey McNickle made sure the Bulls wouldn't come from behind a second straight time.
But the Gators' victory didn't come without a few tense moments.
Land O'Lakes jumped in front of Wiregrass Ranch 3-0 in the first inning and stayed ahead for the duration in an 8-4 win.
"We didn't play great defense, but we played better defensively this time," Land O'Lakes coach Calvin Baisley said.
Any momentum that carried over from Wiregrass Ranch's win against Hernando a day earlier was quickly washed away when the Gators' Gino Pepenella blasted a three-run home run to leftfield off Bulls starter Harry Olsen in the first inning. For Pepenella, it was his 10th RBI in three games this week.
"It's deflating when you come off a big game like last night and you come out and they're all flying high, then the first thing that happens is a three-run home run," Wiregrass Ranch coach Jeff Swymer said. "It knocks them down."
The Gators (13-3) added two more runs in the third inning on a sacrifice fly from David Perez and Rosario's RBI double to make it 5-0.
Wiregrass Ranch (10-6) got its first run in the bottom half of the third on a RBI single from John Michael Gant. That would be the only run Rosario, the Gators' starter, would give up until the fifth inning, when Gant unleashed a massive, two-run home run to straightaway centerfield to cut the Gators' lead to two. The home run was Gant's second in two games.
Rosario, who allowed five hits and struck out two in 42/3 innings, gave way to McNickle shortly after.
"(Rosario) didn't have his good stuff, but he battled and gave us a chance," Baisley said. "Luckily, we got some big hits at the right time."
The Gators extended their lead back to five runs in the seventh inning on an RBI single from Perez and a two-run single by McNickle.
Trying to close out the win, McNickle loaded the bases in the seventh and gave up a full-count walk to Chris Kluender, making the score 8-4 and bringing the tying run to the plate. McNickle, though, got the Bulls' Michael Barrone to ground out to end the game.
"I was glad to see we fought back against a good pitcher on the mound," Swymer said. "That bodes well for our team because we're young and we're getting better. We're going to be scary toward the end of the year."