LARGO — Taylor Layner thinks the current Osceola team is as good or better than last year's squad that won a district championship and advanced to the region semifinals.
Thursday in the championship game of the Osceola Spring Invitational, Layner took the hill and backed up his prediction.
The left-hander held Northeast to two hits for the second time this season and struck out 17 in a complete-game, 2-0 victory that earned the Warriors the first-place trophy.
Layner has experience overpowering the Vikings' potent lineup. Two weeks ago, the junior struck out 17 Northeast batters in an 8-1 victory.
"We have a really good team," Layner said. "We're finally starting to come together and hit."
Layner gave up a single in the first to Brent Brockman and another in the seventh to Shawn Delmontagne, who collected three of the four Northeast hits against Layner in their two meetings. Other than those two mistakes, Layner was, well, perfect.
"I think this was my best performance this year," he said. "No walks; you can't get any better than that."
Northeast starter James Gray matched Layner through four innings, but the Warriors (15-2) broke through in the fifth.
Evan Hock opened the inning with a single and was replaced by pinch runner Jordan Ramsey. T.J. Glessner tried to sacrifice Ramsey to second, but Gray's throw to first was off line and went into the outfield, allowing Ramsey to score.
With two outs and Glessner on third, Osceola coach Kevin Mullins called for the suicide squeeze, and Mike Boriboun executed it flawlessly to build an insurmountable 2-0 lead.
With Layner well under his pitch count, a 2-0 score felt more like a 10-run deficit for Northeast (13-4). Layner struck out two of three in the sixth, and, after allowing Delmontagne to reach with one out, struck out Jarred Flanagen and got Walter Lamerson to pop out to end the game.
Clearwater grabbed fifth place with a 9-4 victory over Lakeland Tenoroc. Kraig Richmond's bases-clearing double helped ignite a six-run fifth that put the game away for the Tornadoes (7-9). Jabe Molinaro was 2-for-3 with two RBIs, and Brian Borden went 2-for-3 with a double.
Dixie Hollins won its first tournament game, scoring a 9-3 victory over Paintsville, Ky., to take seventh place. Jody Odom struck out six over four innings to earn the victory for the Rebels (5-11).
Tates Creek of Lexington, Ky., earned third place after defeating Battlefield, Va., 6-1.