WESLEY CHAPEL — The abundance of purple and gold milling behind Wesley Chapel's visitors dugout was a symbol of belief.
Hernando fans turned out in great numbers Friday night to see another impressive victory, this one a 7-4 win at Wesley Chapel in the region semifinals.
The Leopards advanced to the Class 4A region final, their first since 2004. And they earned Brooksville's believers a home game Friday against Dunnellon.
At stake, a trip to the state final four.
A little adjustment of the rearview mirror and it's not so hard to believe Hernando is one of two North Suncoast teams still in the playoffs (Bishop McLaughlin).
"We looked at the teams in this region, and we all play each other in the summer and fall," Hernando coach Tim Sims said after Friday's victory. "It's who's hot at the right time. … They're comparable teams. In my opinion, talentwise, there's not a dominating team."
Hernando has been hot since April 2, when it defeated Sunlake 14-4. That sparked 11 wins in the past 12 games, including the Class 4A, District 8 title.
Some of the more significant wins in that span came against Springstead, Wiregrass Ranch, Mitchell and Wesley Chapel.
A big piece of that success has been production at the plate.
In those 12 games, the Leopards averaged 10.7 hits and outscored opponents by an average of 2-1.
"It's been that way pretty much the whole year," Sims said. "Our top three hitters are pretty good hitters. And our four and five are clutch hitters when those guys are on base."
On Friday, Hernando led with Matt Brady, Louis Colaiacomo and Ian Townsend. The four and five hitters were Austin Rollins and Taylor Owensby.
Those five account for the Leopards' top batting averages among teammates with more than 15 games played. And they have accounted for 103 total RBIs and 144 runs.
Crushing offense has been one way Hernando has earned respect.
"They have a chance (this week) without a doubt," Wesley Chapel coach Chuck Yingling said. " … They're a very competitive team, and their first five batters will hit the ball at the plate. … In high school, if you can play nice defense and you can do good things, that's enough hitting."
Against Wesley Chapel, the Leopards broke the game open on Brady's home run to leftfield. That sparked seven runs on 11 hits and again helped Hernando earn the respect of its peers.
"No doubt," Sims said. " … The respect level in Pasco and Hernando, we all respect one another. It's neat this particular region has some very good teams this year. You just have to have one that comes out of it. It feels good for Pasco and Hernando to win it heads up.
"When you look at the teams around here, they're tough teams. It's good baseball."
Izzy Gould can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 421-3886.