LAND O'LAKES — Wiregrass Ranch has been making steady improvements the past several seasons. The Bulls almost forcefully had to, what with county powerhouse Land O'Lakes in their district.
But Thursday night presented a chance for the Bulls to rise to the occasion and show early in the season that they are almost on the same level as the Gators in 4A-8.
With the Bulls sending out ace John Michael Gant, a Long Island University signee, they grabbed an 8-4 lead that would disintegrate and Wiregrass would have to go into an extra inning to sneak out with a 9-8 victory over Land O'Lakes.
"We're trying to be Land O'Lakes," Wiregrass coach Jeff Swymer said. "That's what we want out of our program, and that's where we want to be. With Gant and (Land O'Lakes' Brad) Hencke against each other, 9-8 was the last thing I thought. Especially in extra innings."
Wiregrass (4-1, 2-1) took the early one-run lead after one inning and Gant (eight strikeouts) cruised through the first nine batters, but Land O'Lakes got a three-run homer from Gino Pepenella in the bottom of the third to give the Gators (2-1, 2-1) a 4-1 lead.
After exchanging runs through the next three innings, the Gators, trailing 8-7, tied the game in the bottom of the seventh after loading the bases and sent the game into extra innings.
In the top of the eighth, though, the Bulls got a key hit from senior Chris Kluender, who singled in Michael Ayle for the winner.