HUDSON — Rivals Land O'Lakes and Sunlake will play for the Class 5A, District 8 title after the Gators knocked out top seed River Ridge 7-2 and Sunlake dropped Tarpon Springs 13-3 in six innings.
Tonight's 7:30 final will be their fourth meeting; LOL (17-8) took two of the first three. Win or lose, Sunlake is headed to the playoffs for the first time.
"First one ever. It's been a long time coming," said coach Dick Rohrberg, whose team racked up 17 hits against the surprise semifinalist Spongers.
The third-seeded Seahawks (17-8) salted away the berth quickly with a nine-run first inning. Colton King singled and scored twice in the inning and Zac Howard drove in four, completing the uprising with a bases-clearing double. King went 4-for-5, his second run-scoring single enforcing the mercy rule.
In the nightcap Tom Guglielmello (6-0, 0.65) tossed a one-hitter and struck out eight Knights in 61/3 innings.
River Ridge junior Jason Heinrich came in 9-0 with a 1.17 ERA but the Gators jumped on him for five runs in the first. Kyle Sheffield and Alex Reynolds singled, Max Law's infield hit made it 1-0 and Cam Hilgenberg walked with the bases loaded. The key blow was Logan Henderson's two-run double.
Heinrich, who struck out six but walked five, didn't allow another hit until the sixth. Connor Stephens' triple followed by RBI singles by Sheffield and Reynolds made it 7-0. After Guglielmelo was pulled Heinrich supplied his team's only scoring with a two-out, two-run double.
Gage Ledford had the first hit, an infield single leading off the fifth. But River Ridge's frustration crested after that when Jack Burke was robbed by a diving Reynolds, and Heinrich's deep drive was caught at the wall.
Tarpon was 5-17 coming into districts but upset No. 2 seed Fivay in the quarterfinals. On Wednesday, Sunlake starter David Castillo walked the first two batters and a perfect Aaron Dickson bunt had the bases loaded with none out. But Tarpon failed to tag up on a would-be sac fly and Castillo escaped the jam.
"No way did I think we'd win that easy, especially after how the top of the first started," Rohrberg said.
Zac Scranton and Castillo both had three hits for Sunlake, Jesse Williams added two and John Eales drove in two. Howard had a defensive gem with a diving catch in leftfield.
Castillo's wasn't his best but the Seahawks ace was effective enough. He walked six including four straight as Tarpon scored three in the top of the fourth. Alex Anderson finished with two one-hit innings, giving up just a double to Kyle Johnson, who went 3-for-3.
Tarpon (6-18) had used its top pitcher, Max Romanski, against Fivay, winning 5-0 on a two-hitter. Sunlake had a tough test in its quarterfinal but beat sixth-seed Anclote 3-1 behind Ryan Talburt's pitching.
Land O'Lakes also just made the semis, edging Dunedin while River Ridge had the lone easy game, 15-0 against Gulf.
7A-8: Wiregrass wins
TAMPA — It wasn't as if Steinbrenner had a bad day at the plate, entirely. The Warriors, who stranded six batters in their 4-2 7A-8 semifinal loss to Wiregrass Ranch, strung together seven hits.
But the moments in which the Warriors couldn't get a hit made the difference, including a bases-loaded, one-out situation that Bulls' right-hander Austin Drury smoothly pitched his way out of without allowing a run.
The junior gave up two singles in the third before walking Alex Hanson to load the bases, but struck out Mississippi State commit Cole Gordon and induced a popup to end the inning.
"Definitely when Cole gets up or guys like that, I definitely get nervous for him," senior designated hitter Michael Campoamor said of Drury. "But I was glad to see he was able to come out here, buckle down, and make a pitch."
Wiregrass Ranch (17-6) left six on base, scoring just one through three innings. In the fourth, however, reliever Ryan Fatzinger hit Alex Goebel with a pitch to walk in a run, and Campoamor followed with a two-run double to centerfield.
Shortstop Kevin Merrell hit a ground-rule double in the fifth inning and scored moments later on a groundout for Steinbrenner (17-6). Andrew Lindsay led off the seventh with a double and scored on a wild pitch. It wouldn't be enough, though.
With its third win against Steinbrenner this season, Wiregrass Ranch earned a spot in Friday's final, in which the Bulls aim for their first district baseball championship. First-year coach Marshall McDougall said he had a lot to be thankful for after a second straight playoff berth. The greatest of all, though, was the very thing the Warriors couldn't seem to master.
"That's what wins ballgames," he said, "timely hitting and defense."
The Bulls face Sickles, which beat Gaither 5-1 in the second semifinal. Like Wiregrass Ranch, the Gryphons have yet to win a district title in the program's 17-year history.
5A-7: Hernando, Pasco advance
ZEPHYRHILLS — The long ball lifted top seed Hernando and No. 3 Pasco to semifinal wins. The Leopards and defending champion Pirates meet for the district title Friday at 7.
Brendan Litwinsky's walkoff homer gave Hernando a 2-1 win over Central. In the nightcap, A.J. Rainaldi belted two homers, a grand slam and two-run shot, and teammate Robbie Hanlon added a solo blast in Pasco's 8-1 win over Wesley Chapel.
"That was the biggest home run I've ever had in my life," Litwinsky said of his line shot over the leftfield fence with one out in the bottom of the seventh inning. "I was looking for one down the middle. I knew I was going to crush it."
Central led 1-0 in the third when Zack Sorrentino singled and later crossed the plate before Hernando could turn a 3-6 double play on a grounder to first baseman Andres Cabrera. In the bottom of that inning, Hernando's Tyler Ledington reached on a bunt and scored on Austin Treverton's double.
In the second game, Pasco had eight hits off of three pitchers. Hanlon led off the game with a towering shot over the rightfield fence and Lane Stancil walked before Rainaldi's two-run homer to left-center.
Grant Starling gave the Pirates a 4-0 lead in the second on an RBI single and Rainaldi's blast to right in the fourth doubled that lead.
"My swing wasn't there when I got to the field to hit," said Rainaldi, who also drove in six runs in a 13-8 win over the Wildcats earlier this season. "Me and Robbie went into the cages and worked on our swings, so I guess it paid off."
Pasco pitcher Brian Johnson, a transfer from Georgia who did not play in high school last season, scattered four hits and allowed one run on Michael Jones' sacrifice fly in the fifth. He struck out five, walked one and hit a batter.
"When I started warming up I felt good," said Johnson, a senior right-hander. "I thought we were going to win."
6A-10: Mitchell in final
SPRING HILL — Major-league prospect Cobi Johnson was on the shelf for Mitchell the past 31/2 weeks, but with all the chips on the line this season, the ace pitcher returned.
With Johnson on the mound, the third-seeded Mustangs knocked off No. 2 seed Springstead 3-2.
"Cobi was shut down for a few weeks," Mitchell coach Scot Wilcox said. "He did well on his throwing program and came back 100 percent."
The senior's presence boosted his team. Johnson went three innings, walked three, struck out three and gave up two hits and one earned run. He left with a 3-1 lead as the Mustangs (16-10) had one run in each of the first three frames.
"Sometimes when you try too hard, you make mistakes," Wilcox said. "(Johnson) was pushing it to 110 or 115 percent (Wednesday night)."
Zack Detty singled and scored twice in that span, finishing 2-for-4. Johnson also contributed with the bat, going 2-for-3 with two doubles and a walk.
For Springstead (11-14), senior Will Pagan went 1-for-2 with an RBI double and two walks. He also relieved starter Miguel Martinez and threw the final four innings, allowing only one hit and striking out two.
"The seniors are pretty distraught," Pagan said. "We feed off each other's energy, and this was a tough way for it to end."
Staff writer Kelly Parsons and correspondents Derek J. LaRiviere and Steve Lee contributed to this report.