WESLEY CHAPEL — The playoffs are seven weeks away, but Tuesday's semifinal between Land O'Lakes and Wesley Chapel at the Pasco County Varsity Baseball Tournament already had a postseason feel.
Certainly the Wildcats and the Gators are playoff-caliber teams who could meet again at regionals.
The Gators, though, will be sure to pitch a bit more carefully to Wesley Chapel's Zach White in the rematch.
White unloaded on a fastball down the middle of the plate in the eighth inning, sending a shot over the leftfield fence to give the Wildcats a 5-4, extra-inning victory.
The walk-off home run puts Wesley Chapel in Friday's final opposite Wiregrass Ranch.
It was also the first home run of White's prep career.
"I knew we needed a big hit," said White, a junior. "I just swung at it. It was right down the middle, so I hit it."
That White was even in a position to win it was a minor miracle for Wesley Chapel (11-0). The Wildcats trailed 4-2 going into the bottom of the seventh but scored twice to tie the game and remain undefeated. After leading off with a base hit, Geoff DeGroot came home from second on a Land O'Lakes error to cut the lead to one.
With runners on first and second and one out, the Gators thought they might have a chance to end the game on a double play ball up the middle. The batter, Keegan Tanner, beat the throw from second, though, and pinch-runner Cody Hodgens alertly rounded third and slid into home plate ahead of the throw to tie the game.
"I knew we had it in us to come back," White said.
Both teams scored two runs in the first inning, and the score remained 2-2 until the sixth inning when Land O'Lakes (9-3) grabbed the lead. After loading the bases with no outs, the Gators went ahead 3-2 on a wild pitch from Wesley Chapel starter Brandon Mumaw. The Gators' next batter, Trey McNickle, perfectly executed the squeeze play to make the score 4-2.
The lead, however, wouldn't stand over the final two innings for the Gators.
"Defense was the difference," Land O'Lakes coach Calvin Baisley said. "… I've got no complaints with the way they competed. We just didn't play good enough defense."
Brandon Brosher hit a two-run home run in the first inning to lead Springstead past Ridgewood 7-2.
Eagles starting pitcher Bobby Pasarela went the distance, allowing six hits and no earned runs to get the victory.
Julian Perez went 2-for-3 with a double and two runs scored for Springstead (8-5). Ridgewood (5-7) was paced by Robby McCabe, who went 2-for-3 with a double.
Also, Central won its first game of the tournament after defeating Hudson 7-4.
The Bears rallied twice to defeat the Cobras. Hudson (1-9) held a 3-0 lead after the first inning, but the Bears tied the game in the second.
Hudson scored a run in the third to go ahead 4-3, but Central (5-7) knotted the score again in the fourth and scored three runs in the sixth.