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Cotey: A team effort, pardon the cliche, makes Hernando tick

Matt Brady swung at the fourth pitch of the game, the ball shot off his bat high and long, and Wesley Chapel's leftfielder turned and gave chase.

"It's how we wanted to start," said Ian Townsend.

In Friday's region semifinal, it was all about getting on top, and in this case Brady got under a pitch just enough to sail it high into a bright sky, and you had to squint against the setting sun to keep an eye on it.

Higher. Longer.

"Big," Townsend said.

Gone.

The next three Hernando batters singled. Two more runs scored. The Leopards never surrendered the lead and won 7-4, and now they will host a region final in an attempt to return to the state final four for the first time since 1967, when Tom Varn coached the Leopards to a Class B title.

"We've been to sweet 16 my last two years, I really wanted to get to the last eight," Townsend said. "Now I want to get to state."

It's possible. Though the Leopards don't have your classic fireballing ace to throw out there next Friday, they have enough pitching, hitting and defense to beat just about anyone.

Heck, maybe Townsend will just carry them there.

The junior shortstop has been part of the Hernando resurgence, which pretty much started with the return of coach Tim Sims after two years off to spend more time with his family.

Now Townsend is drawing comparisons to Sims, who was quite the player himself.

Against Wesley Chapel, Townsend slapped a blooper to rightfield in the first inning on a swing designed to merely protect the plate. He doubled. And he hit his first triple of the season.

"Ian is stroking right now," said second baseman Brandon Gemmiti, slipping in this: "I expect him to do this."

And why wouldn't he?

He now has a 14-game hitting streak, and in 10 of those games has had two more hits. He's had an RBI or more in 12 of the past 13 games.

It is no coincidence that the Leopards are 12-2 during his hitting streak.

"I'm just making up for the beginning of the season," he said, though it was hard to notice then because Luis Colaiacomo was mashing. Both guys are hitting over .460.

If it's not someone, then it's someone else.

That's Hernando's mantra.

"Everyone brings something," Townsend said.

Even guys like Gemmiti, a sophomore who brought his glove Friday.

In the second inning, he made a backhanded stop up the middle and threw out the runner. In the third inning, he knocked down a tricky hopper with runners on second and third for the last out. In the fifth, he made the big turn-and-throw on a 5-4-3 double play on a grounder hit by Wesley Chapel's speedy leadoff hitter to deal a big blow to a Wildcat rally.

"That was pretty big," Gemmiti said. "Those things take down a team's self confidence."

A few games back, he had been benched because his average had been sinking fast. After pouting for a game, Sims said he has been better than ever.

The top four hitters Friday night — Brady, Colaiacomo, Townsend and winning pitcher Austin Rollins — did their job, going 9-for-16 and scoring all six runs.

Taylor Owensby drove in two batting right behind them.

And Cody Gillis got five outs and his second save.

A little bit of everything from everyone.

"The secret? We're a family," Townsend said, then, almost embarrassed, he added, "That's really sappy, but we really are. I mean, if we were missing one person we would not have done as good as we did tonight.

"From that home run on, everyone did their thing."

John C. Cotey can be reached at cotey@sptimes.com

Cotey: A team effort, pardon the cliche, makes Hernando tick 05/07/10 [Last modified: Friday, May 7, 2010 11:28pm]
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