WESLEY CHAPEL — Alex Goebel had two of Wiregrass Ranch's five hits and the only RBI of the game last week as the Bulls topped Sickles for their first baseball district championship.
Before Wednesday's Class 7A region quarterfinal against Brandon, first-year coach Marshall McDougall rewarded his senior catcher by bumping him up in the lineup.
"Alex has been swinging the bat well, and that's why he jumped up from three to two," McDougall said, "just to get him some extra at-bats."
And with the season on the line, Goebel was in the right place at the right time.
The Bulls trailed Brandon by a run heading into the bottom of the seventh inning, but a leadoff walk got Richie Piazza on base, Austin Drury moved him over with a single, and Goebel followed with a hit to leftfield to score the winning run as Wiregrass Ranch beat the Eagles 3-2.
Wiregrass Ranch (19-6) hosts Sickles on Tuesday.
The Class 7A, District 8 champions had ridden strong pitching — Zach Drury threw a no-hitter in the district championship — and defense to get to Wednesday's quarterfinal. But down the stretch, it appeared everything was going the Eagles' way.
Brandon (16-10), which scored its runs in the third inning on a Ryan Anderson RBI double and a Bulls throwing error, replaced starting pitcher Antonio Velez with Anderson in the fifth inning. Immediately, the senior right-hander started shutting down the Bulls, striking out four of the six batters he faced in the fifth and sixth innings.
Wiregrass Ranch's only run going into the final frame was scored on a Zach Drury RBI single in the third inning. But just three outs away from pitching his team to a victory, Anderson walked Piazza, the Bulls' eight-hole hitter, giving Goebel the chance to work his late-game magic.
They were just five days removed from their first district title, but a black banner heralding the Bulls' feat already hung on the fence by the entrance to Wiregrass Ranch's stadium.
"This team, I think we can do anything," Goebel said. "We get ourselves down, I think we can always pull ourselves out."
3A: DH turns tide
SPRING HILL — Drew Stofanik figured it was another in a frustrating line of well-struck balls making its way to an opponent's glove. Instead the Bishop McLaughlin designated hitter had the momentum-shifting hit as Bishop beat Lakeland Santa Fe Catholic 5-3 in Wednesday's Class 3A region quarterfinal.
Bishop (18-7) will host Tampa Prep in a rematch of the district final won 2-0 by the 'Canes.
With his team trailing 2-0 Wednesday, Stofanik hit a homer, his first of the year, and by the end of the third inning the score was tied. Two runs in the fourth gave Bishop the lead for good.
"Honestly I thought it was just a pop-up," said Stofanik, who entered hitting .214.
Coach Jeff Swymer said some people were "clamoring" for a change at DH but Stofanik had been making good contact.
After the home run, No. 9 hitter Paul Coumoulos singled, went to third on a wild pitch and an error, and scored the tying run on Zack Berglund's bunt.
Four straight hits — by Ethan Nuebling, Dillon Morton, RJ Perciavalle and Stofanik — made for the go-ahead fourth inning. Nuebling was 2-for-3 with two runs scored out of the No. 5 spot; of the 'Canes' seven hits, none came from the top four in the order.
"We're solid up and down the lineup," said Nuebling, who also made a key diving catch at third base to end the top of the fourth. The visitors from Lakeland had loaded the bases.
Will Potosky, the closer all season before a complete-game shutout of Tampa Prep last week, went the first five. Carson Ragsdale pitched the final two frames, getting a diving stop from Potosky at first base to end it.
Zach Scott's homer pulled Santa Fe within 4-3 in the top of the fifth, then slugger Mark Devlin ripped one to the wall but Coumoulos caught up to it in leftfield. Coumoulos also had a big insurance sac fly in the sixth to score Nuebling.
Though Tampa Prep will be out for revenge — the Terrapins were 9-0 in district play until Potosky shut them down — Swymer thinks his young guys can pull it off.
"We're just a bunch of baby giraffes out there, but you know what? We're competing our tails off," he said.
Darek Sharp, Times correspondent